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Commissioners recommend denial of pot nursery

St. Helens Planning Commission votes 3 to 2 to deny nursery sought for Columbia Boulevard

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - St. Helens resident Larry VanDolah speaks to the St. Helens Planning Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 10. The commisioners voted 3 to 2 to deny a conditional use permit for an indoor nursery that VanDolah's girlfriend, Jennifer Plahn, applied for in October.The St. Helens Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of denying a conditional use permit application for a marijuana nursery on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Planning Commissioner Greg Cohen motioned to deny the conditional use permit application on the grounds the application does not meet criteria identified for businesses in the St. Helens comprehensive plan.

In early October, St. Helens resident Jennifer Plahn submitted a land use application with the intent of opening an indoor nursery at 1771 Columbia Blvd., which would be used to grow marijuana plants that would be processed and sold wholesale to marijuana dispensaries, including two dispensaries she is hoping to open.

Larry VanDolah, Plahn’s boyfriend and a St. Helens resident, spoke to the commissioners on Tuesday about the purpose of the nursery, stating that the nursery would help the local economy by creating jobs.

Shane Welliver, a St. Helens resident who would be part owner of the nursery, spoke in favor of it during the hearing.

“If there’s going to be marijuana dispensaries in the city of St. Helens, why not have the product that’s going to fill them also come from inside St. Helens?” Welliver said.

Members of the Planning Commission, however, seemed concerned with several unanswered questions, including if the site would be able to handle the amount of electricity required to run the facility and whether or not it was too close to proposed marijuana retail shops.

St. Helens City Councilor Ginny Carlson questioned the commission before the vote to clarify what the motion to deny the application was put forth. Carlson serves as an advising liason to the Planning Commision.

“I want to make sure that what we’re saying is, ‘No to manufacturing’ in this building, or [are we] saying, ‘No to cannabis’ in this building?” Carlson said.

Audrey Webster, a planning commissioner, said she viewed the nursery as more suited for a light industrial zone area, regardless of the type of plant.

Planning Commission Chair Al Petersen said the application specifically did not meet commercial zone requirements and it would be too close to another marijuana facility.

During deliberations, Petersen said allowing a grow facility to operate specifically in that area would not give the appearance of a lively main street corridor, one of the goals identified in the city’s comprehensive plan. By operating a business that cannot advertise its operations on the storefront, Petersen argued, would be the same as having an empty store.

Planning Commissioner Kathryn Lawrence said that, while she understands and agrees with Petersen’s concerns, the site of the proposed nursery is an area that has

not seen recent business growth.

“I hate seeing an unproductive facility that large in our inner city area,” Lawrence said.

City Planner Jacob Graichen told the commission that city code does not distinguish between the establishment of marijuana nurseries or any other type of plant nursery. Petersen echoed that fact, noting that plant nurseries are allowed outright in industrial use zones, and would not need a conditional use permit to operate.

The Planning Commission will review findings at its next meeting in December and is expected to sign off on the denial of the conditional use permit then.