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City planners, planning board disagree on how to regulate energy-intensive pot growing

Courthouse News

While the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board sought to regulate the energy consumed by marijuana growers through a proposed zoning amendment, the city’s planning staff is asking the City Council to go a different route.

All but one member of the planning board this month recommended that marijuana growers be limited to to 36 watts per square foot – a move intended to regulate the energy-intensive business as it gears up for recreational sales in January.

The planning board approved the 36-watt limitation in Title 20 zoning but on Monday night, planning staff said it couldn’t recommend that decision, saying zoning code wasn’t the appropriate tool to regulate energy use.

“Once a business is approved, we cannot apply new regulations retroactively to existing businesses that are not proposing changes to the building,” said city planner Cassie Trippard. “Placing energy consumption regulations in zoning code would mean we cannot bring any existing cultivation operation into compliance. They would be able to continue using non-compliant, energy-intensive lighting.”

Zoning decisions aimed at marijuana growers and dispensaries are intended to prevent the clustering of marijuana retailers and limit the amount of screening they place on their storefront windows.

The recommendations also limit manufacturers and growers to certain districts of the city based upon the size of the business. Those tools aren’t controversial and will likely win approval from City Council in the coming weeks.

However, the proposed amendment that regulates a grow operation to 36 watts per square foot may not win approval. Staff is asking the council for time to make amendments to a different section of city code that it believes could better regulate energy-intensive businesses, including marijuana growers.

“We could ask that existing cultivation operations come into compliance at business license renewal,” said Trippard. “This would allow us to ensure that existing cultivation businesses are reviewed to be more sustainable.”

Business licenses are renewed annually.

Neva Hassanein, a member of the Consolidated Planning Board, pushed to amend the proposed zoning ordinance to include language stating that “lighting power density shall not exceed 36 watts per square foot.”

In effect, she said at this month’s meeting, it will require marijuana growers to use LED lights in place of other energy-intensive lighting. The 36-watt allowance was still generous, she said.

“Global climate meetings are happening right now. We don’t have time to dink around,” she said. “We have to mandate some energy conservation measures, some renewable energy as part of this.”

While city staff acknowledged that the impacts of climate change represented a significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of the general public, they are asking City Council instead to address the issue when businesses seek to renew their license.

Members of the City Council on Monday suggested they liked the idea, but would discuss it further this week in committee. They also questioned how long it would take planning staff to amend code around license renewal given that recreational sales begin in roughly 45 days.

“We’d be aiming to get this implemented by the end of February or January if we can get through the stakeholder meetings,” said Trippard. “We want to take a little additional time researching and reaching out to the businesses.”