North Pole residents urge assembly to deny local marijuana-growing facility

Several residents of a North Pole neighborhood told Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly members Thursday that they do not want a marijuana-growing business in the area. Their arguments swayed half the members, but that wasn’t enough to pass a measure that would’ve opposed state approval of a business license for the facility.

Residents of the Benshoof turned out in force again Thursday to protest a proposed marijuana-growing facility that they say should not be allowed in their mainly residential area. During the public hearing on a business-license request for the facility near the corner of Badger Road and Benshoof Drive, Lois Maxwell said she opposes it because it’ll harm children.

“We try to teach the children that use of mind-altering substances is not a good idea,” Maxwell said. “But when it’s right in your neighborhood, it’s something that becomes the norm. And we don’t want it to be the norm.”

Maxwell said her home, like many others, is only about 500 feet from where AK Green Bee Inc. wants to grow pot commercially. She said it’s not the right place for such a facility.

Cyrus Freeman, another area resident, agreed. And he said he’s located a much better location in Salcha.

“That property is on a much-larger wooded lot,” Freeman said. “With convenient access to the Richardson Highway.”

A borough Planning Department map shows AK Green Bee’s proposed growing facility location, outlined in yellow, with distances to two churches, outlined in red, and adjacent residential areas. (FNSB graphic)

Christa Dyer said she and others in the neighborhood have launched an effort to rezone the area to keep businesses that produce or dispense alcohol or marijuana from setting up shop there.

“We started that process back in July,” Dyer said. “It’s just a really slow process – looks like about six months.”

And 11-year-old Kyra Rodriguez says the facility just kind of creeps her out.

“I just, I don’t like it,” Rodriguez said. “And when I walk home it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

AK Green Bee owner Monique Daigle said she understands her neighbors’ concerns, and has made several changes in the layout and design of her 2,400-square-foot growing facility to accommodate them.

“As far as children in the neighborhood – I’m a parent,” Daigle said. “I’m a grandparent.”

Daigle said she’s met all borough and state requirements for the license. She said she supports residents’ drive to rezone the neighborhood just east of her property, even though that’ll require additional floor-plan adjustments. She said her facility will be well-secured and won’t generate much traffic – only a few vehicles a day for employees and one or two deliveries. And she’ll open a new entry away from the neighborhood in the spring.

“We are responsible members of our community who feel that as the business owners, we owe it to the members of our community to operate with integrity,” Daigle said.

After the hearing, Assemblyman Lance Roberts urged fellow members to disregard the borough administration’s recommendation to support the business license and instead vote for a resolution he sponsored that would urge the state Marijuana Control Board to deny it. He recounted reasons he cites whenever the Assembly considers a marijuana business-license request: that pot is still illegal under federal law and is bad for your health. And he said this time, there’s another important consideration.

“What really matters for this case specifically, is how it is adjacent to residential neighborhood,” Roberts said. “There’s so many places it could’ve been put, but instead it was put right next to a residential neighborhood.”

That argument resonated with three other Assembly members – Matt Cooper and newly elected Angela Major and Aaron Lojewski. The four voted in favor of Roberts’ resolution opposing the business license, but the measure failed on a four-to-four tie vote –Assemblyman Shaun Tacke recused himself because he’s active in the cannabis industry.

After Roberts’ measure failed, the Assembly voted seven to one to recommend the Marijuana Control Board grant the business license pending AK Green Bee obtaining a borough conditional-use permit.

The Assembly then approved resolutions supporting licenses for two other marijuana businesses, with Roberts the lone dissenting vote.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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