Nearly 3 years after learning that a commercial site development permit was applied for by Mark Cramer of Maple Valley Industries, LLC to prepare for the future construction of two 20,000-square foot industrial warehouse buildings, King County Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER) finally issued a permit for the site development on April 21, 2017.
The battle began in June 2014 when neighbors in the small rural neighborhood of unincorporated King County along 200th Ave. SE between Covington and Maple Valley discovered they had only a few short weeks to file written comments regarding the proposed buildings. Quickly engaging to find out what was about to transpire in their area, they were doubly shocked to find out that not only would there be the possibility of two – 20,000-foot warehouse buildings, but that the developer (Cramer) was intending to use the buildings for production and processing of marijuana.
During the months that followed, neighbors rallied to present their side of the picture that a commercial business – much less marijuana business – was not a good fit for their rural neighborhood. A review of the proposed site revealed that the current dead end roadway accessing this site is substandard, inadequate and unsafe. In fact, the road is extremely narrow and even dangerous for children and pedestrians. The road has no sidewalks, shoulders or even streetlights.
After reviewing the application for nearly 3 years, the Commercial Site Development Permit (CSDP) was finally issued by DPER to Maple Valley Industries on April 21st. This permit is for site development only – no buildings yet. Included in the permit is the phased site clearing and grading; lighting, drainage & utilities; on-site parking lot and drive aisles; internal walkways; two building pads A & B [for each 20,000-square foot building – one of which is currently in the permit phase], and landscaping.
The permit requires only limited conditions that the developer needs to make, such as widening a 100–foot portion of the roadway by a mere 1 foot, an agreement with Covington Water District for extending the water main, and an air permit approval from Puget Sound Clean Air Agency prior to issuance of building permits for the pads should the building be used for marijuana production/processing. In addition, a copy of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) license must be provided to DPER prior to Final Occupancy. DPER approved the permit, but also placed a limit on the size of trucks that can go to and from the business site. A condition that neighbors feel will never be enforced.
After learning that the site development permit was approved, the neighborhood was shocked and dismayed that DPER required so few requirements and conditions to protect the safety of the local residents. One neighbor commented that a simple 500 square foot coffee stand would have had more improvement conditions imposed than this 40,000-square foot combined commercial project, which is equal to the size of a Home Depot store. This was especially troublesome considering this project is located in a rural R-5 zone, which only allows single-family homes.
According to DPER staff, a building permit application has been applied for and is still under review, but will likely be issued in the very near future. However, it is interesting to note that proposed building is not yet identified as a marijuana facility at this time, and that there is no marijuana license associated with the site. This is especially concerning given that DPER’s permit approval conditions specified that the buildings will be classified and used as “plant nursery operations.”
Checking with WSLCB revealed that there is no license associated with Maple Valley Industries regarding marijuana, however, a marijuana license was issued to Mark Cramer. According to LCB staff, Cramer’s current licensed business is located in Benton City, WA. Should Cramer decide to relocate his licensed business to the Maple Valley warehouses site on SE 248th St. off 200th, he would have to notify LCB by filing a change of location application. The Board would then take the matter up and do an investigation of the new location, which would be subject to the local jurisdiction’s rules and regulations.
While at this time there is no change of location associated to Cramer, should he decide on relocation and be permitted to change locations, he would have to close his Benton City location in order to move the marijuana licensed business to Maple Valley (or any other location he chooses). When asked if he could apply for a second license, LCB staff stated that they are not accepting new applications at this time.
For his part, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn jumped into the controversy early on when calls to his office began coming in from residents concerned that a possible commercial marijuana facility would be placed in their rural residential neighborhood. Taking a look at what he could do from a Council position, Dunn was able to get a moratorium passed throughout the County stopping any further potential facilities from being placed in residential areas. Then following extensive investigative work, he was able to take the findings and work with his colleagues on the Council to “successfully exclude an additional 145,000 of 235,000 acres allotted for marijuana businesses in the unincorporated area and increase building setbacks in rural area zones.”
Always opposed to this type of facility in a rural area, Dunn stated that it was an unfortunate set of circumstances that has led the property off 200th to where it is today and that it is not good to locate industrial use projects in rural residential neighborhoods. Through his efforts, he was able to keep marijuana producing and processing out of the RA5 zoning. Under the new ordinance championed by Dunn with the support of his colleagues, the total acres available for producing and processing in the RA10 zoning of unincorporated King County is 35,577 with 1,072 partials of land. This excludes Vashon Island, which has its own RA10 regulations.
Meanwhile, neighbors are continuing their efforts to stop the two commercial buildings in their quiet neighborhood by filing a lawsuit under Washington’s Land Use Petition Act (LUPA). This next step is a judicial review of the land use decision made by DPER in issuing the site development permit.
Several local residents recently interviewed regarding DPER’s questionable decision to approve the Commercial Site Development Permit continued to question why DEPR even accepted the commercial permit application for this site, given that it is located in a rural residential area, lacking the required utilities and roadway infrastructure. According to the residents, the applicant (Cramer) clearly had ample opportunity to build or lease any of the currently vacant commercial sites or warehouse buildings in the Kent or Renton valley. Many believe that DPER errored in applying the required development codes for this project and later refused to listen to the community leaders and even the King County Council members, when objections were raised. According to residents, DPER’s Director, John Starbard, clearly misunderstood the required codes and misused his discretion in granting approval for this project.
In preparation for LUPA appeal, which must be filed no later than May 12, 2017, neighbors are appealing to the community at large to help defray mounting legal costs. A GoFundMe page has been set up – gf.me/u/2zdn