A group of Portland-based entrepreneurs can move forward with their plans to build a large recreational cannabis operation for multiple licensed growers on land they own just outside of Canby.
That’s the situation now that an impartial hearings officer ruled in their favor last week in their case against Clackamas County.
The company is Horta Latitude 45 LLC. In 2017, they paid $665,000 to purchase a 21-acre peach orchard and farm property located about a mile and a half south of town, on Canby-Marquam Highway across from the Lone Elder Store.
They planned to build eight approximately 3,400-square-foot greenhouses on concrete pads, which could then be leased to multiple licensed marijuana growers, essentially acting as tenant farmers.
In addition to the eight greenhouses for indoor production, Horta’s plans include 2.3 acres that would be used for outdoor growing. Additional buildings would be used for security, storage and processing of cannabis oils and concentrates.
Their plans were approved by the county in June of 2018, but nine months later, a new ordinance was passed prohibiting more than one cannabis production license per parcel of land. It basically made Horta’s business model illegal.
Hence, the appeal, in which Horta had argued that the county cannot pass new ordinances that retroactively restrict projects that had already been approved.
Evidently, the hearings officer, Fred Wilson, agreed. The county had argued that Horta never specified their intentions to have a certain number of growers on their property, which is true, but there’s also a good reason for it: at the time, they didn’t have to.
And while the county had tried to argue that Horta could still realize its previously approved plans — just with one licensed grower as opposed to the nine that they were hoping for — Wilson was not convinced.
“While the county’s permit did not specifically allow for multiple licensed premises (as there was no need to at the time), it certainly did not restrict the approval to one licensed premises,” Wilson wrote. “As explained earlier, I just do not see that there is any doubt that the proposed use was for multiple licensed premises, and it would be financially irresponsible overkill to seek approval of eight greenhouses and one outdoor grow area for a single licensed premises.”
What he means is that OLCC regulations restrict each licensed grower to a maximum area of 10,000 square feet. So building premises that would accommodate approximately three times that much doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — unless your plan was to host multiple licensed growers all along.
Wilson’s decision basically requires the county to honor its original decision in approving the company’s plans. The approval is good for four years, which gives them until June of 2020.
The county cannot appeal the decision by its hearing officer, but another party could, like one of the neighbors who testified against it during the earlier hearing on Oct. 3. If an appeal is filed, the county would be tasked with defending Wilson’s decision.
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