The Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-1 Wednesday against a rezoning request that would allow the Bayacan Company from growing medicinal marijuana in the empty NatureSweet greenhouses near Bonita. The board of supervisors will take up the matter Monday morning.
Bayacan attorney Heather Dukes told the packed room that an economic impact study by the Rounds Consulting Group showed Bayacan would introduce 1,494 jobs to the county as well as $545,800 in annual tax revenue. The average employee would earn $34,000-$40,000 annually, she said.
Bayacan has been holding a job fair over the last week and 400 people signed up for another job fair scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 19, Dukes said.
The Graham County Chamber of Commerce is in favor of the rezoning.
In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the Chamber Board wrote, “Approval of this request will result in much needed employment and tax revenue to our region.”
In addition, after a tour of Bayacan facilities in Cochise County, the board said “We witnessed precise professionalism and impressive standard operating procedures from their operations manager, compliance manager, agricultural operations manager, and human resources manager.”
In the same letter executive director Vance Bryce wrote he has met with Bayacan co-owner, Frank van Straalen, and he is confident Bayacan would be “good neighbors and community members. We are eager to build great relationships with them.”
“We were impressed by their professionalism,” Bryce said Wednesday. “I would personally be proud to work with Bayacan.”
Joe Carter, former Graham County manager, also spoke in support of the rezoning, saying he sees it as a way to diversify the economic base of the county.
The hearing draw a large crowd, most of whom spoke out against the rezoning, however. The meeting room was filled to capacity and people stood outside in the hallway in order to speak.
Martin Fleming, the owner of a thoroughbred horse farm, and his daughter, Wendy McComber, said they are worried about the environmental impact of the marijuana greenhouse.
McComber said their horses are within 80 feet of the proposed greenhouse and she expressed fears pregnant horses would breathe in marijuana byproducts and their foals would be at risk for still-births, low birth weights and attention deficit disorders.
“It will destroy our property and residential values, and it will most likely destroy our business,” Fleming said. “We care for many horses that are owned by clients from across the United States and Canada. Why do we have their horses? Because of the clean fresh air quality. And the good water and the feed quality grown by our neighboring farmers in the surrounding agriculture area, along with our knowledge to raise and provide care for these horses that comes from being in this business for 73 years. That would be taken away from us.”
Also, Fleming said he believes Cochise County residents were more likely to be hired than Graham County residents since the greenhouse would be closer to them.
Dukes hopes to convince the supervisors to approve the rezoning against the commission’s recommendation.
“Between now and Monday I will work very hard with my client to meet with some of the immediate property owners again to see if we can resolve some of their concerns and hopefully get a favorable vote from the Board of Supervisors on Monday,” Dukes said. “Again, this is a significant impact on the community in terms of jobs, taxes, the whole nine yards.
We would like to see it approved and have the opportunity to have a new business here.”