Just a couple of miles north of Combie Road lies Golden Oaks, a Home Owners Association subdivision of 10- to 20-acre plots.
Some homeowners keep horses and tend vegetable gardens. Others have a cannabis farm.
When first developed in the late 1970s, it was zoned Agricultural/Residential, said Debbie Porter, who has lived there for 24 years with her husband, Craig. On their land they keep a couple of horses, goats and sheep with irrigation ditches for sufficient water, though it’s not a working farm.
“A majority of homeowners keep goats and sheep to help keep vegetation trimmed in a simple way and reduce wildfire hazards. We are a Firewise community and potential fire is a real fear,” she said.
And, she added, occasionally a homeowner will run a business out of their house.
Several years ago cannabis farmers moved into the area and began cultivating their crop. A permitted cannabis grower now operates a small parcel, including a few temporary greenhouses and a new nursery under construction, run by Chephren and Cassi Jennemann.
However, in addition to the Jennemann’s micro-farm, there are a number of illegal growers, Porter said. And that has added to increased traffic, noise and drainage of ground water.
“The county is calling these legal grows commercial (thereby allowing commercial business in here),” said Porter. “Yet a main tenet of our (Covenant, Conditions and Restrictions) is no undue use of roads. The county’s ordinance for pot growing reads as though it was written by the cannabis lawyers.”
The main entrance of Golden Oaks is a traffic bottleneck during morning and afternoon rush hours, Porter said.
“That’s why we want to limit use of roads, they’re not designed for lots of traffic. Main roads are wide enough for two way traffic, but side roads are narrower.”
Golden Oaks has private roads, with maintenance paid for by the homeowners, Porter said. The Jennemanns have traffic going twice a day that is considerably more than homeowners are accustomed to. Meanwhile, added wear and tear is a financial burden. And Porter said they’ll need to change their covenants to have growers and their employees contribute to the maintenance of roads.
Supervisor Ed Scofield, who represents the area, has been kept up to date of the development.
“Yes, the board will be addressing the cannabis issue during its annual planning session in January,” Scofield said.
Porter said she wants a moratorium on additional legal grows.
“I think it’s a doable issue to take a step backward, but it’s OK to grandfather in those who already have a permit.”
Wayne Klauer, another homeowner, is concerned about the negative effects of traffic, as well as increased theft, which would diminish the value of his parcel. He fears any lot could potentially become a cannabis grow.
“In all likelihood I’ll sell my property within the year.”
Home owner Susan Street pointed to the near constant odor and a long grace period to full follow regulations.
“My biggest concern is the smell,” she said. “I know he must be opening the greenhouse door, because it smells like a skunk. You can’t relax outside in the evenings.”
She added that cannabis growers get two years to come into compliance.
“Every other business in the county has to have everything up front — licenses, fees, permits, before you can open your door to the public,” she said. “So, why does cannabis get a pass for two years? They’re not treated like every other business. They get special accommodation.”
Chephren Jennemann disputes many of the complaints.
Jennemann said much of the traffic and noise is due to a new nursery they are constructing.
“We understand it has a lot of traffic, but it will only last another month or two,” he said. “And I’d say I’ve never encountered congestion, maybe twice I’ve got stuck behind someone. And the county chose to zone it for agriculture. It only makes sense to grow there.”
Cassi Jennemann said one neighbor raises cattle. Another has a horse boarding ranch, and still another has a vineyard.
“And if we grew tomatoes it wouldn’t be an issue, but we grow cannabis. So the issues aren’t traffic, or use of roads.”
Chephren added that they have made some logistical changes to reduce the traffic. Instead of planting in pots, they’ll plant in beds, which reduces labor intensity and the need for many employees.
Chephren also said that he can see five illegal grows from his property.
“That affects everything,” he said. “The watershed, environment … and it makes it hard for the people doing it legally.”
Trisha Tillotson, director of the county’s Community Development Department, said the agency has heard of similar concerns about cannabis cultivation occurring in certain neighborhoods that, although zoned for such uses, may not be desired by current residents. Staff has proposed reevaluating county codes related to cannabis permitting next year, and would allow for public input.
“Typically, traffic from cannabis is minimal,” she said. “Peaks can be observed during initial development. Impacts are comparable to (traditional) agriculture, and generally do not require major road improvements. And setback requirements are intended to minimize odor issues. A moratorium would not address odor concerns. Also, our agency will be implementing an unmanned aircraft system, starting next year to confirm, as required to legally enforce illegal grows, that an illegal grow exists.”
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at [email protected]