By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Council opens pot door on split vote

The votes came in two by two at the city council’s Tuesday night session. Two councilors voted yes, two councilors voted no and two councilors were absent when it was time to decide whether to permit the siting of marijuana dispensaries in McMinnville.

That left it to Mayor Rick Olson to cast a pair of tie-breaking votes, first on a motion to ban dispensaries altogether, then on one to allow them, subject to some additional restrictions beyond those established in state law. He opted for the latter, which thus prevailed.

Four people submitted written testimony before the hearing and three more testified in person. All seven argued in favor of allowing dispensaries to set up shop in town.

Councilors Paul May and Scott Hill weren’t swayed. But their ban attempt failed when Olson sided with Councilors Kellie Menke and Larry Yoder in opposition, with Councilors Alan Ruden and Kevin Jeffries absent.

The council split the same way on a followup motion to approve the siting of dispensaries with additional restrictions.

Menke said she believed people suffering from diseases like cancer should have ready access to medical marijuana.

Yoder said he actually favored banning them, but didn’t believe such a move would hold up in court. “I think it’s here, and we’re going to have to deal with it,” he told his colleagues.

He argued for holding off on a decision until Ruden and Jeffries could be present.

However, Olson noted a Feb. 11 hearing on the issue had been canceled, in part, because Ruden and Jeffries could not attend. He said the council needed to make a decision by the end of the month and he couldn’t support additional delay for councilors who were “aware this was on the agenda.”

City Attorney Candace Haines supported him, noting the state plans to begin accepting dispensary registration filings March 3, and that at least one local businessman, Jim Galba, has announced plans to set up shop in McMinnville.

“I think we need to get our citizens an answer, and especially before they spend $4,000 on registration,” Haines said. “I would like to see us take an action ASAP, so we can tell our citizens what they can do.”

The ordinance the city eventually adopted bars dispensaries from being sited within 1,000 feet of local pre-schools and the city library, aquatic center and community center. Taking effect March 1, it also restricts operating hours to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

State law already bars the siting of dispensaries within 1,000 feet of elementary, secondary or career schools, or anywhere in a residential zone.

Following a second public hearing, councilors unanimously approved a new economic opportunities analysis paid for by a company hoping to rezone to commercial an industrial parcel on Highway 18 so it can develop a major shopping center there.

Five people, including development company representative Bill Brown, testified at the hearing. Three of them — private citizen Steve Iversen, EOA advisory committee member Mark Davis and Friends of Yamhill County and 1000 Friends of Oregon rep Sid Friedman — expressed concern that some of the language in the document seemed to favor rezoning of industrial land to commercial.

While he supports the report his committee helped shape, he does harbor concerns about the rezoning issue, Davis said. He also took issue with a statement in the document indicating the county is experiencing “sales leakage” that could be addressed with additional commercial development.

Davis said the focus was supposed to be on McMinnville. He questioned the countywide framing of that statement.

In fact, he noted, U.S. Census data shows that McMinnville leads the county, state and nation three in average retail sales per capita. He also noted, “Average retail wages are 60 percent of the typical wage in the city,” suggesting commercial development would not be a big producer of family-wage jobs.

His concerns were echoed by Friedman, but contested by Jody Christensen, who served on the EOA advisory committee in her capacity as head of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership.

Councilors dismissed the concerns, voting unanimously to approve the document as presented.

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