The Basalt Town Council was unable Tuesday night to come up with a position on a proposal for greenhouses to grow pot despite heavy lobbying from Holland Hills residents to oppose the plan.
The council doesn’t have any decision-making capability, but it was asked to weigh in by the Pitkin County commissioners. The county’s review begins Aug. 28.
Holland Hills residents, who live outside the town’s boundaries but consider themselves part of Basalt, asked the council to advise the commissioners to deny the application.
The greenhouses are proposed on the Caparrella property at 24480 Highway 82. The site is in unincorporated Pitkin County, though only 1.5 miles east of Basalt.
The proposal is for as many as 44,000 square feet of greenhouses. Associated buildings would boost the total to more than 50,000 square feet.
Basalt officials are all over the board with their positions. The planning staff recommended that the town advise Pitkin County to deny the application because of the size and massing of the project. The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission reversed course and wrote a letter to the county in support of the greenhouses.
The council took the rare step of getting involved in what’s known as a “referral comment” and asked to look at the proposal. Usually the council defers to the planning commission for a referral position to another local government.
The council was divided on how to respond, and two motions to take positions failed from lack of support.
“It’s a wedge issue. It’s tough,” said Councilman Glenn Rappaport.
The issue isn’t tough for Holland Hills residents. About 15 residents of the neighborhood attended the council meeting and asked the council members to join them in opposition.
“We are opposed, and we are opposed for several reasons,” said Hutch Hutchinson, president of the homeowners’ association in Holland Hills. The greenhouses will add traffic to that section of the midvalley, he said. The residents also are concerned about a potential increase in crime and lack of security.
“We really don’t want it across the street from us, quite honestly,” Hutchinson said.
Ann Smock said Holland Hills residents are opposed to the size and mass of the buildings. She noted that the cumulative total would be about the same as the El Jebel City Market, even though the greenhouses are proposed in a rural area. The fact that the greenhouses would be growing pot isn’t a factor in the consideration for her, she said.
“I want to make it clear that whatever is growing in that greenhouse — tomatoes, beans, flowers or marijuana — we would be opposed,” Smock said.
Another resident, Bronwyn Anglin, said she is concerned specifically about marijuana growing at the site. Growing pot isn’t as benign as growing fruits, vegetables and flowers, she said.
“Nobody’s been killed over roses, as far as I know,” Anglin said. But people have been killed for marijuana, she added.
Another speaker, who didn’t identify herself at the hearing, objected that the greenhouses would emit an undesirable “odor.” The pot-growing operation shouldn’t be so close to schools and within easy access of high school students, she said.
“They can get in so much trouble on their own without this,” she said.
Only four of seven council members were present at the hearing. They couldn’t agree on a position. Councilman Glenn Rappaport said he supports sustainable agricultural operations in the Roaring Fork Valley. He also said the Holland Hills residents had legitimate complaints that should be raised with the Pitkin County commissioners. He said it wasn’t the council’s role to determine if the site was appropriate for the greenhouses.
Councilman Herschel Ross agreed that Basalt should send the letter of support from the planning commission as well as a list of objections raised by the Holland Hills residents, and urge the county to address those issues. He proposed the council avoid making a statement for or against the application. He made a motion to take that action, but it failed 2-2 with opposition from Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilman Mark Kittle.
“Based on the comments tonight, I would vote not in favor,” Kittle said.
Whitsitt agreed. “I would have to recommend this not be approved by the county,” she said. Whitsitt explained that she felt the proposal was too large for the rural site.
Kittle made a motion for the council to write a letter urging the county to deny the application. It died for lack of a second, a necessary step in local governing.
Whitsitt explained Wednesday that she wasn’t aware at the time of the meeting that she, as mayor, could second a motion. Whitsitt served three terms of four years each on the council. She has served about 15 months as mayor.
“Actually, that was a dufus move on my part,” Whitsitt said. Given the position, the motion might have died from a 2-2 vote anyway, given the council members’ positions, she noted.
“Actually, that was a dufus move on my part.”