Planning commission favors annexation request to grow peaches and possibly marijuana
With a nearly new membership, the Palisade Planning Commission on June 2 voted unanimously to recommend approval of a 10.2 acre agricultural annexation on the northeast edge of Palisade. On June 10, the town trustees set a public hearing on the annexation for July 22.
Part of the annexed land would be leased to potentially grow medical and retail marijuana in the future. That depends on actions by the town trustees concerning marijuana operations.
The idea to grow marijuana on part of the land is proposed by Jesse and Dessa Loughman, owners of Colorado Alternative Health Care, a medical marijuana dispensary in Palisade. Brian and Rebekah Cox own and operate a peach orchard on the land.
“We would like to work with Jesse and Dessa and lease part of it to them,” Brian Cox told the planning commission on June 2. Cox also said he and Rebekah will continue to grow peach trees on the site. However, “It is a really old orchard, and it is time to take it out.” Leasing the land (for growing marijuana) “will be an efficient way to use the land and let the soil rest,” he said.
In an interview earlier, Dessa Loughman said leasing the land would allow expansion of cultivation for the medical marijuana business. Jesse Loughman said the possible future use would also include cultivation for recreational/retail marijuana.
Ron Quarles, newly hired Palisade Community Development Director, told the commission that the land is eligible for annexation and that staff supports the request.
The site is located north and east of Bower Avenue, between the Government Highline Canal and the Stub Ditch, near I-70. Quarles said in his report to the commission, “The owners intend to lease (part of) the agricultural land to the Colorado Alternative Health Care for the off-premises cultivation of cannabis and to zone the land as Agricultural Forestry Transitional (AFT). The owners are also requesting that upon annexation that the site be zoned Agricultural Forestry Transitional.”
Quarles said in his report, “A decision to begin the annexation process in no way authorizes the use of the land for the off-premises or outdoor cultivation of marijuana.”
Marijuana cultivation facilities are prohibited in the unincorporated areas of Mesa County, Quarles pointed out. Therefore, the owners of property are requesting annexation to the town, as well as intending to later request to add off-premises outdoor cultivation of marijuana to the Palisade Land Development Code.
Quarles emphasized that if the land is annexed but the cannabis cultivation use is not approved by the town trustees, the land would continue to be used for agricultural production.
The Palisade land development code currently allows for the cultivation of medical marijuana by patients and caregivers in residential units in agricultural, residential and mixed use zoning district, subject to specific limitations. The code also allows growing of medical marijuana in non-residential structures in the Town Center, Commercial Business, and Light Industrial zoning districts.
A conservation easement for the 10.2 acre site and adjoining land has been granted to the Mesa Land Trust to preserve the land for “agricultural productivity, Prime Farmland, open space character, wildlife habitat and scenic quality,” etc., Quarles notes in his report.
The land was originally surveyed in 1908 for the Palisade Coal and Supply Company as part of the Plat of Palisade Heights, Quarles reported.
In other action, the commission approved a sign variance for a new art gallery, Sandy King Studio, located at 330 Main St. Owner Sandy King told the commission that she wants a sign to be visible, so that people at 3rd and Main St. will decide to walk down Main. The sign needs to project out from the building, she said.
The gallery building is next to Inari’s Restaurant.
The sign, 32 inches by 18 inches, is intended to hang above the front door of the building along the Main Street frontage. Community Development Director Quarles told the commission in his report that the sign meets land development code regulations except for the length of the sign projection. Town staff recommended approval of the sign size variance.
“Thank you for bringing your business downtown,” Commissioner Roger Rawlings told King. She said, “I love Palisade. To me, this means Palisade.”
The commission, composed of several new members, listened to and viewed a 35-minute webinar on chairing and participating in public meetings. It was prepared by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). It included open meetings requirements, quorums, work sessions, and executive sessions.
DOLA advised, “Avoid doing business prior to a meeting.” Also, a strong chairperson “sticks to the agenda, leads rather than attends,” etc., “like an air traffic controller.”
The DOLA presentation described quasi-judicial actions by a planning commission, compared to legislative actions. Quasi-judicial actions include rezoning, variances, site plan approval, land use code items, etc. In that case, the commission is “acting more as a judge than a legislator.”
Conflicts of interest were described, as was ex parte communication. In the case of communication outside of a public meeting about an item of business, the advice included, “Limit the conversation as much as you can.”
The message was summed up as, “Integrity in public service is particularly important because someone likely is watching.” Also, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”
Quarles, community development director, also noted that the board of trustees recently adopted a “Relations Policy and Code of Ethics” for the trustees as well as the planning commission. Quarles said the code outlines “the proper role of the planning commission, the press, the public, and internal (relations).”
Quarles also invited the commissioners to participate in an on-line survey about the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will update the 2030 plan. The 2040 plan includes all communities and areas of Mesa County and is a product of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. The public survey site is: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1667856/GV2040RTP-Launch-Survey.
The commission listed future items of business, including updating the land use code, signage regulations, and considering rules for short term vacation rentals.
Chair Betsy McLaughlin announced at the beginning of the meeting that Bill Hoffmann, Palisade resident, was also attending the meeting as a member of the media, reporting for Peach Town News. Quarles said two people are interested in applying for membership on the commission, and that the trustees will interview them. There is one commission vacancy. One current member was absent at the June 2 meeting. If two current members had been absent, the commission would have lacked a quorum which is needed to take action. Members attending the June 2 meeting were McLaughlin, chair; Roger Rawlings, Kenneth Ruth, Charlotte Wheeler, and Robynn Sundermeier, town trustee, and ex-officio to the planning commission. To see a photo of the commission members, go to the Palisade town website, http://townofpalisade.org/. The regular meetings of the commission are the first Monday of the month and are open to the public, 6 p.m., Palisade Civic Center.