My View – May 2016

The city’s delay to expand its Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) has resulted in an unintended consequence with a marijuana farm being established just east of the city limits. This photo, taken the week of April 20, shows a fence being erected around a one-acre section of a larger, 30-acre parcel of Exclusive Farm Use land, known as JK-1.

This pot grow is located just east of the Chevron station on North 5th Street, planted on county turf owned by Freel & Associates, a well-respected development firm. The pot farm is within clear view of thousands of motorists traveling to and from Jacksonville along Highway 238 and from Old Stage Road, just north of the Post Office.

Although the 8 foot fence is required to screen the pot plants from public view, cannabis plants often reach 12+ feet in height. The legal limit for this grow site is 96 plants. Such fences also do nothing to mitigate skunk-like smells residents throughout Jackson County are noticing from such grow sites. By mid-summer, residents in Royal Mobile Estates, Pioneer Village, Nunan Square and Vineyard View, as well as businesses on the 5th Street corridor will likely be impacted. Unfortunately, according to Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding, the county doesn’t have an odor nuisance ordinance at this time. So, if it stinks, there’s no recourse.

I spoke with land owner Dave Freel for this piece and learned that the farmland has been leased to a grower for a three-year period. Freel noted that the tenant may also plant non-cannabis crops in the coming years, possibly hay and corn.

Freel explained that the grower intends to plant Lavender and trees to provide added screening and odor mitigation. However, unless well-established bushes and trees are spaded in, it’s unlikely that new plantings will provide screening for years to come.

I have written on the subject of the UGB many times, appealing to city officials to start working on expanding Jacksonville’s boundary to pave the way for development. Such planning for growth is mandated by statewide planning goals to provide enough land for housing and other uses by the year 2036 and isn’t optional.

Since 2003, and to no avail, Mr. Freel has been working with city officials to bring this ground into the Jacksonville city limits, even offering to donate up to 8 acres for a dog park, fire station, community center and other uses. Freel noted that it was former City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen who approached him on the matter, with a city-stated goal of annexing the land for housing and a possible alternate vehicular route for traffic now utilizing California Street. State officials have warned that heavy traffic, especially from trucks, threatens Jacksonville’s historic landmark status.

Prior to Jacksonville dropping out of the Regional Problem Solving process, the Planning Commission had identified JK-1 as its number one area for UGB expansion. The commission chose JK-1 after vetting 16 other potential parcels. For more than 10 years, the city has delayed any serious initiation of the process, while offering Freel countless indications that it was indeed interested in annexation. To date, Freel has invested a hefty sum with no assurances whatsoever that the city will actually move the UGB matter forward.

If annexed, Freel says that development would likely include up to 120 affordable multi-family units and up to 100 single-family homes, 4 acres of light commercial and a potential feeder road to alleviate some traffic from downtown. The density of the area would resemble other planned unit developments already built in Jacksonville. Based upon the most-current “buildable lands inventory,” Jacksonville Principal Planner Ian Foster told the City Council on 4/19 that the city can prove its need for multi-family housing and employment lands to come into the city. Foster also acknowledged that the city has a strong case for needing land to construct more single family residential homes.

According to Freel, earlier attempts to lease the farmland to a conventional farmer failed because the acreage is insufficient to sustain a large-scale operation in-line with modern-day farming practices. With maintenance, property taxes and carrying costs, he’s leasing the property to recoup some of those expenses and to maintain its current EFU zoning use. Freel says he weighed the decision to lease the land to a pot grower for months before agreeing to do so.

Although not the main reason, establishment of this pot farm should serve as a clarion call for the City Council to take immediate action and move forward with the JK-1 UGB proposal. Although identified in 2003 as the city’s top priority, it has since fallen by the wayside as other projects, notably restoration of the Courthouse, has taken priority. With the Courthouse project almost complete, it’s time to get serious on JK-1. If annexed, the pot farm would not be an allowed use and would be plowed under.

The city, and not Mr. Freel, needs to take the lead on making the UGB expansion happen. Without serious leadership, energy and vision from the mayor, staff, council, and the Planning Commission, Jacksonville’s 5th Street gateway will likely include a long-term marijuana farm.

A related benefit to new development is new revenue and property taxes. As recently revealed at the City’s Town Hall Meeting on Public Safety, new funds are needed to sustain current levels of city services. The alternative will be increased surcharges and new tax levies.

The City Council, at the direction of Mayor Becker, should establish the UGB process as the Planning Commission’s top priority. The Planning Commission, with support of RVCOG and Eco-Northwest, should then provide a report and recommendation back to the City Council within 3-months detailing the actions required to annex JK-1 within three years.

Although the pot farm isn’t within the city limits, its close proximity will negatively impact housing values, tourism, civic pride and the economic health of Jacksonville.

I appeal to Mayor Becker, Administrator Alvis, the City Council and the Planning Commission to get serious about the UGB expansion in Our Small Town with Big Atmosphere!