County moves forward on pot plan after mixed meeting

Scott Bergin, an owner of Bakkhos Holding, speaks at the county meeting last week.  - Jeff Dunnicliff Photo
Scott Bergin, an owner of Bakkhos Holding, speaks at the county meeting last week.
— image credit: Jeff Dunnicliff Photo

King County is moving forward with a proposal that would allow marijuana business at the K2 building after hearing mixed reactions to the plan at a public meeting attended by hundreds on Vashon.

The county’s Department of Environmental Permitting and Review (DPER) is working with the county executive’s office to complete the proposed amendment to the Vashon Town Plan, according to Lisa Verner, DPER’s legislative coordinator. It plans to send the proposal to the King County Council by Monday.

The proposed amendment, Verner said, will not be significantly different than what was discussed when more than 200 islanders packed the cafeteria at Chautauqua Elementary School for a meeting last Wednesday. According to county officials, the amendment would bring Vashon’s zoning in line with other parts of unincorporated King County by allowing marijuana growing, processing and retail at properties zoned accordingly in Vashon town and at Center.

“We are moving ahead with crafting a recommendation,” Verner said.

Meanwhile, Bakkhos Holding says it is also continuing with its plans to purchase K2 and use the site to grow and process marijuana, despite considerable pushback at the meeting, two petitions circulating that are related to the business and a surprise announcement from the state Liquor Control Board that could limit its future pot production.

On Monday, Dan Anglin, a spokesman for Bakkhos Holding, issued what he called an open letter to Vashon, repeating claims he made at a meeting earlier this month that the company will hire local, be good environmental stewards and partner with community causes.

In another letter issued late Monday by K2 Sports, the president of K2 addressed some of the environmental

concerns that have been raised about the property. He said K2 will remain liable for any contamination at the site and that it will take steps requested by the state concerning the 2008 cleanup of known contamination there.

In interviews with The Beachcomber, Anglin described Bakkhos — a company with two owners with ties to the Colorado marijuana industry — as on the defense against criticism and what he called untrue information being spread on the island. He has said he believes that other businesses on Vashon have not been scrutinized the same way and called the K2 site “the most contentious property in (Initiative) 502 in the entire state.”

“We’ve been portrayed inaccurately. Even though we had a town meeting of our own ... we think there are still plenty of Vashon Island residents who have not yet heard from us, and the two-minute forum wasn’t enough to get our message across,” he said.

At the standing-room-only meeting on Wednesday, comments on the county amendment were wide ranging and contentious at times. Islanders who took to the microphone expressed a variety of opinions on the amendment, as well as the company, the K2 site and edible marijuana products in general.

Joe McDermott, Vashon’s representative on the King County Council, was at the meeting, and Lauren Smith, a top advisor in King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office, helped moderate. McDermott did not return a call Monday for a comment on the meeting.

Many who commented said that they supported Bakkhos Holding’s plans to purchase K2 and grow marijuana and manufacture marijuana-infused candy and other products at the building. They largely focused on the fact that the company would make use of a large commercial building that has sat empty for years and would create local jobs.

“I see a lot of people opposing something that is going to bring jobs to a lot of people who need them,” said Tim Johnson, president of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council.

Others brought up a variety of concerns about the company’s plans, with some saying they worried that the operation will attract crime, will use a huge amount of energy, or that the product will get into the hands of kids and teens.

Bakkhos plans to transport all of its product to off-island distributors, unless a legal marijuana shop on Vashon sells some of its products as well. Some who commented at the meeting argued against concerns raised about children, saying they believed they were not relevant.

“This is not going to give our children access to drugs,” said Linda Schaeffer.

Several who commented said they were concerned King County is moving forward with amending the town plan, part of the county’s comprehensive plan, too quickly, not providing time for the community to vet the changes.

“You cannot make a decision that is going to impact the spirit and letter of the town plan, which was to preserve the spirit and nature of this community, in a week’s time,” said Wayne Miller.

“Vashon has little control over its destiny. … It’s important to take the time,” said Merrilee Runyan.

A group of islanders has also circulated a petition to the county, asking officials to hold off on the amendment while Vashon completes its own town plan update, a process that would take about a year. As of Friday, the petition had about 70 signatures.

Still others at the meeting brought up concerns first raised by the Backbone Campaign several weeks ago about potential contamination at the K2 site.

Bill Moyer, director of the Backbone Campaign, recently went public with a document that Backbone purchased and that he says calls into question the adequacy of environmental testing that has been done at the site.

An eight-page memorandum prepared by the Issaquah company Farallon Consulting, which examined environmental assessments of the site prepared by other companies, identifies what it considers to be gaps in testing by those companies. The report says it expects the state Department of Ecology (DOE) would require additional environmental testing at the site before it declared that no further action is necessary there.

Backbone has been circulating an online petition asking K2 Sports and Jarden, its parent company, to do just that — obtain a No Further Action letter from DOE before it moves forward with the sale and any transfer of liability. As of Monday, the petition had about 440 signatures.

At one point at the meeting, one of the owners of Bakkhos Holding, Scott Bergin, stood up to comment. He spoke to Bakkhos’ plans for the site and largely focused on the environmental concerns raised. He said his company does not plan to indemnify Jarden of any prior contamination at the property, contrary to what is stated in the Backbone Campaign’s petition. He called some of the information going around the island lies.

“We do not want to buy a piece of property that is contaminated. It serves no purpose,” he said.

Donna Musa, a site hazard assessment coordinator with DOE’s toxics cleanup program, said K2 is listed by the state as a cleanup site. It is listed along with more than a dozen other Vashon properties because a few years ago the department received notice from the property’s owner of a leaky oil tank there. According to DOE records, Musa said, the tank was removed and some of the oil cleaned, but it wasn’t possible for all of it to be cleaned. The state knows of no other contamination there, she said.

Moyer forwarded documents on past testing as well as the Farallon report to DOE, and Musa said they would become part of DOE’s record on the site. However, she said DOE is unable to comment on testing done unless the owner enters the state’s Voluntary Cleanup Program and the documents are examined by state officials.

“It’s really site specific,” she said. “The information that has come to light since all this came up would definitely be reviewed by a site manager.”

In an letter sent out late Monday by Anthony De Rocco, president and CEO of K2 Sports, De Rocco addresses environmental concerns about the site and says K2 has not asked Bakkhos to indemnify it of any existing contamination there. The letter was addressed to the King County executive and county council members and was also emailed to The Beachcomber.

In the letter, De Rocco goes on to say that K2 will work with DOE to take steps “in connection with K2 Sports’ volunteer action to decommission a 300-gallon oil tank at the site in 2008,” and would seek a No Further Action (NFA) determination. It was not clear whether the NFA determination would relate specifically to the oil tank, which DOE has said is an option, or to the site as a whole.

“Despite the fact that we moved the business off the island,” the letter reads, “K2 Sports is legally and morally bound to take responsibility for adverse impacts on the environment, when those impacts are identified by state or federal agencies with appropriate jurisdictions.”

Anglin has reported that Bakkhos Holding, which is under contract to purchase the K2 building, consists of three investors — one from Washington and two of whom recently moved from Colorado, where they were involved in marijuana business as well. A state Liquor Control Board document recently obtained by The Beachcomber and dated Jan. 17, however, showed that the owner from Washington withdrew from the LLC.

On Monday, Anglin confirmed that the remaining investors are Bergin and one other, Daniel Griffin, and said he had still been naming the third investor because he was still listed on the Secretary of State’s website.

“There are no secrets here,” he said. “The application process is not yet finished, and there are a lot of things in flux.”

The same day as the public meeting, there was also an unexpected announcement from the state LCB that could affect the company’s plans. The LCB announced that due to the large number of applications it received to grow marijuana in the state, it will initially limit how much any one company can grow.

Companies last year could apply for up to three permits to grow as much as 30,000 square feet of marijuana, for a maximum of 90,000 square feet of grow space. Now, however, the LCB will initially limit companies to one permit each and reduce grow space on permits by 70 percent, for a maximum of 21,0000 square feet of grow space. In the future, companies may eventually be permitted to grow as much as they originally applied for.

Bakkhos Holding applied for three of the top licenses, one on Vashon and two for a building in Woodinville. It planned to move the two Woodinville permits to Vashon for a potential of 90,000 square feet of growing at the K2 building. Now the Woodinville applications have been put on hold.

“We’re not thrilled it happened,” Bergin said of the LCB announcement. However, he added that under phase one of their plan, they would start with less than 21,000 square feet of pot production anyway.

“That’s a lot of product,” he said.

The King County Council is expected to hold a public hearing in Seattle on the proposed amendment. It will vote on it as soon as late March.

Should the county approve the amendment, Bakkhos Holding will also seek a rezone of the K2 building and may be required to obtain a conditional use permit from the county as well.

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