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Cornelius's war on 'condo grows' hurts energy efficiency, says Hillsboro grower

The city of Cornelius took steps to prevent large marijuana grow operations from sprouting within city limits at its Aug. 7 council meeting.

In a unanimous vote, Councilors Harley Crowder, Dave Schamp, and Steve Heinrich made amendments to the Cornelius Municipal Code regarding the time, place and manner in which marijuana production facilities can operate.

The changes limit the number of OLCC or OHA licenses that can be used at legal lots to just one — a change aimed specifically to prevent "condo grows," meaning marijuana grows with several licenses operating in one facility.

Community Development Director Ryan Wells spearheaded the amendment proposal in a speedy effort. Wells said marijuana grows are becoming prolific in the area and Cornelius is at risk of losing valuable industrial facilities to grow operations.

"There's a great potential for a large condo grow in our industrial zone to create a loss of opportunity for other higher employment wage structure jobs," said Wells.

He cited the Matsushita Building in Forest Grove, a 113,000-square-foot industrial area that is currently occupied by a grow operation and the Walnut Industrial Park in Hillsboro, a 130,000-square-foot state-of-the-art marijuana grow facility.

"We have just about every aspect of the industry in the building except retail," said Walnut Park owner Rich Plainfield.

His facility is the first fully energy-efficient grow facility in the nation, he said, and the largest marijuana facility in Oregon.

"Limiting to one license — that's very inefficient," said Plainfield. "You do it individually and you can't make use of energy-efficient technologies."

He said having multiple licenses in a facility allows growers to pool their efforts and reduce carbon footprints.

But the sheer size multiple growers can bring to an industrial area has posed problems in other Oregon communities, Wells said, monopolizing available space. Just one tier-two license allows an indoor grower 5,001 to 10,000 square feet of mature canopy in one or more facilities.

The amendments also clarify the buffer zones around marijuana facilities.

Under Oregon state law, marijuana cannot be retailed within 1,000 feet of a school, but Cornelius took this a step further in November of 2016 by extending that buffer zone to include production facilities. The city also created a 500-foot buffer zone between public parks and retailers or producers in an effort to protect sensitive populations like small children, said Wells.

"We wouldn't want a brewery to open up right next to a school either," said Wells.

The amendment specifies that if a marijuana facility exists in an area prior to a school or park being built nearby it can remain in operation — but only as long as there are no lapses in licensing and the business continuously abides by the conditional land use permit.

Wells said the city's adopted vision for Cornelius's future includes a diverse industrial sector.

"We recognize real opportunity in our industrial area and have been allocating significant city resources to work with industrial property owners as well as regional partners to highlight the opportunities that these properties provide," he said.

The city would like to see industries bring jobs to the area that pay higher wages than marijuana businesses typically pay, as well as more positions. Wells said that most online job postings in entry-level marijuana production pay between $12 and $15 an hour, just above minimum wage and not enough for a family to afford median housing in the area,

"Frankly it takes a two-income family to afford a home these days," said Wells, estimating a median home price at about $325,000 right now.

But Plainfield said his facility will open spaces for 40 marijuana businesses and create over 150 new jobs in Hillsboro — something he thinks will boost the area's economy. He also said entry-level jobs like trimming leaves pay workers by the pound of product they trim — well above minimum wage.

However, Wells worries jobs like trimming will disappear as the industry relies more heavily on automated technology.

Cornelius remains open to small grow operations and retail businesses, but none have yet taken root, he said.

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