The Ontario Planning Commission met Monday, Oct. 8 to draft a proposed marijuana zoning ordinance to send to the City Council for consideration. The next council meeting will be held at City Hall on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO - The Ontario Planning Commission met for nearly four hours Monday night to tackle land-use changes to the current city ordinance to include marijuana facilities and operations, provided that voters on Nov. 6 approve the measure to lift the ban on marijuana sales in the city.

A large number of people attended the meeting. at City Hall to hear the proposed marijuana zoning ordinances presented to the planning commission and the emotional testimony of citizens who are either for or against marijuana use.

Dan Cummings, city community development director, outlined the recommended changes to the city’s zoning laws with maps showing the effect of the buffer zones suggested by the marijuana ad hoc committee and the city staff. The buffers would limit where marijuana businesses could operate, keeping them out of residential areas and in most business districts of Ontario.

The proposal sets out the land-use regulations that cultivation centers, processing facilities and dispensaries would have to follow if they want to be part of the marijuana business in Ontario. That ordinance has been produced by city staff, and is available for review on the city’s planning and zoning division website.

After Cummings’ presentation, citizens had a chance to weigh in on the proposed ordinances. The first comments came from Steven Meland, Freddy Rodriguez, John Kirby and Andy Peterson, all members of the marijuana ad hoc committee.

Meland, chairman of the committee, shared the reasoning behind the group’s proposed zoning requirements, which were often more restrictive than the city staff’s recommendations. He said that the group “got a sense that the city does not want to be overrun by dispensaries.”

Rodriguez followed to share that the committee didn’t always come to a consensus and that the public should know the committee was lopsided with five members pro-marijuana and two against.

Other people people from both sides of marijuana legalization voiced their concerns or support in emotional testimony during the public comment period.

One stakeholder based in Portland, Lori Duckworth, asked that the planning commission adopt the least restrictive buffers.

“You guys are a dying town,” she said, at which some people in the crowd booed. To convince the public, she said there are “stats showing that medical and recreational marijuana do not damage communities or increase crime.”

Another comment came from Ken Hart, an Ontario resident who pitched the idea to limit the number of marijuana dispensaries. He fears that Ontario’s dispensaries would be monopolized by big cannabis businesses from out of town.

Ideas were shared and all points of the zoning ordinance were examined by the planning commission before they voted on what recommendations to pass onto City Council. The commission proposed:

A 350-foot buffer between two marijuana facilities in the C-1, C-2, C-3 zones.

A 500-foot buffer between residential areas and marijuana facilities in the C-1, C-2, C-3 zones.

Require one parking space per marijuana facility employee during the busiest shift, and one parking space for each 300 square-feet of the building.

Adopt no buffer between two recreational marijuana facilities in the C-2H, I-1, I-2 and E-2 zones. (A previous motion to adopt a 350-foot buffer was rejected.)

Adopt a 500-foot buffer between residential areas and marijuana facilities in the C-2H, E-2, I-1 and I-2 zones.

Recognize two parks, Moore Park and Depot Park, in downtown Ontario as city parks.

“The same ordinance recommendations from staff and the marijuana ad hoc committee will go in front of the city council, plus the recommendations from the planning commission,” said Cummings.

He said the only additional recommendation by the planning commission was to recognize the two city parks in downtown Ontario as recreational parks, which would require a 1,000-foot buffer between the parks and marijuana retailers. That would exclude in particular some downtown sites.

“The norm is that they (City Council) will follow the planning commission’s recommendations,” said Cummings. “I may myself be giving a recommendation to council to accept the planning commission recommendations.”

The Ontario City Council will hold a public hearing at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. to review the proposed marijuana zoning ordinances.

Reporter Kristine de Leon: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377