The discussion revolved around how much time the staff would actually need to review an application and whether staff would be learning the ropes at the cost of the early permit applicants.
Councilwoman Maryann Derwin grilled Town Manager Jeremy Dennis on the rationale for a $5,000 deposit. She posed a hypothetical situation in which an application to grow 12 plants from seed in three raised beds with a goal of two harvests per year is received by the town. Irrigation has been installed, the plants cannot be seen by passersby, and they're far enough inside the property so that odor is not a problem.
The application is submitted, and someone from the staff comes out to look at it.
"What else are you going to do?" she asked. Unlike the "super complicated" process for approving a a second-unit, "this is just 12 plants sitting in the dirt in my yard," she said. "I'm just trying to figure out how that would take 30 hours of staff time."
Dennis and Town Attorney Cara Silver noted that the applicant would likely have to go before the Planning Commission "a couple of times," the second hearing prompted by commissioners with unanswered questions.
Neighbors may protest and may appeal the commission's decision to the council, so the fees are based on the worst-case scenario, with cost recovery at the maximum, Silver said. "Anything that is not incurred will be refunded," she added.
Since the town has not considered a cannabis permit before, "we just won't know until we do see permits (to gauge) how much time actually will be involved," she said.
Producing the staff report "takes longer than it would seem" to ensure that it's correct, that it answers all the questions, and that it addresses all the issues, Dennis said. "It's not a process where you can take two hours and type something up and be done," he said.
"It's the Planning Department's sense that it is better to ask for a little bit more and not have to go back and ask again. That is a very frustrating exercise for an applicant," he said. The deposit can be lowered later if it proves to be too high, he added.
Learning on the job
Staff will be on a learning curve, Councilman Craig Hughes said. "If the first application were to come in, it's probably going to take more staff time to do it, essentially because staff is learning," he said. "My question is whether that's fair to the applicant that we're charging them a fee to essentially train our staff that subsequent applicants wouldn't have to bear."
Is 30 hours reflective of that curve, he asked. Will time spent interacting with the state eventually shrink?
"It's a conundrum," said Councilwoman Ann Wengert, "because there isn't any history. A review of the process will be the key. "Given the variables that we've not dealt with before, ... (the estimate of staff time) is a valid place to start," she said.
Conditional use permits are "always situational," she said. "Staff is always having to be creative ... in dealing with a project-specific issue."
The deposit may be refunded in part, Hughes said, "but it's not really under the control of the applicant. We're charging the applicant $5,000 to go through the process that we put in place that we didn't need to put in place. And part of that is for our Planning Commission to get comfortable with the types of applications that are coming through" and for the education of town staff and the community.
"It doesn't feel right to charge the applicant for that," he said.
Councilman Jeff Aalfs suggested subsidizing the applicant, with the town paying for staff time beyond 20 hours. Hughes suggested that the town might pay for 50 percent of the staff time.
Wengert would have none of that. "I have a real fundamental objection to that because we don't do that for any other conditional use permit," she said. The town has always based its estimates on staff time, she said.
"To (treat) this new and pioneering ordinance in a different way, to define it differently or think about subsidizing it differently, I'm very much opposed to it."
This story contains 765 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.