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Originally published Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 3:54 PM

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Sedro-Woolley to reconsider pot-growing request

After almost a year of hearings and appeals, the City Council must again consider a business owner's request to let tenants grow medical marijuana in units of his ministorage company.

Skagit Valley Herald

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SEDRO-WOOLLEY — After almost a year of hearings and appeals, the City Council must again consider a business owner's request to let tenants grow medical marijuana in units of his ministorage company.

A Skagit County Superior Court judge sent Thomas Swett's case back to the council Aug. 13, finding that the council made "procedural errors" when it overturned a hearing examiner's approval of Swett's request.

An appeal hearing before the council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, in the City Council chambers. The hearing is a closed-record appeal, so the council will take no public comments and no new testimony.

"Basically, the judge just pushed a reset button," said Sedro-Woolley City Supervisor and Attorney Eron Berg. "As far as I see it, it just means we're continuing to follow the process."

Swett, owner of A1 Heated Storage, applied in December 2011 for a conditional-use permit to convert some units at his facility to allow for hydroponic gardening. The City Council denied the permit, a hearing examiner approved it on appeal, then the council overturned that decision.

Swett sued in Superior Court, saying the council deprived him of due process and failed to follow city laws regarding burden of proof. He also accused the council of basing its decision on issues not raised in the appeals and on facts not contained in the record.

For example, letters filed as part of the appeals process did not mention increased traffic near the facility, but the hearing examiner and council both considered that issue in their decisions, according to court documents.

Sedro-Woolley city law requires appellants to identify the issues being appealed, and only those issues are to be considered and decided. The City Council broke this law, Superior Court Judge Susan K. Cook concluded.

The council also improperly required Swett to prove the permit should be granted, Cook wrote in her two-page decision. The council's finding said the burden of proof was on Swett because he applied for the permit, but city law puts that burden on whoever appeals the hearing examiner's decision to grant the permit.

"Overall, it appears that the City Council blurred the distinction between policymaking and quasi-judicial decision-making and, in so doing, deprived Swett of due process on this appeal," the judge wrote.

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