King County Crafting Rules for Pot-Zoning in Rural Areas

Aug 5, 2013

As the state continues to hone its licensing rules for recreational marijuana businesses, local governments are working on land-use regulations that will determine where they can go. King County has drafted a new zoning law for unincorporated areas and is seeking public comment before it’s finalized. 

John Starbard, King County’s director of permitting and environmental  review, says it’s an historic time in Washington.

“It’s like a rollback to eliminating prohibition in the early 30s,” Starbard said.

He says it’s hard to know what to really expect when new recreational pot businesses start operating. But for now, the new rule they’ve drafted mostly just tries to fit the three kinds of marijuana companies allowed into existing zoning. 

Retail stores would be allowed in business zones; indoor growing and processing in business and industrial zones; and outdoor growing in agricultural and rural areas.

The key, Starbard says, is in making sure any open air operations have just as much security as indoor warehouses and retail stores would.

“So that’s securing the site and having monitoring equipment and other security measures that are established in the draft liquor control board rules,” he said.

Starbard says, like Seattle, the County did wrestle with the question of whether outdoor growing could be adequately secured, but opted in the end to allow it because of the potential for energy savings if sun rather than electric light is used.

They also opted to limit the size of indoor grows to 30,000 square feet.

“30,000 feet is about the size of a traditional grocery store, which is fairly big, but not overwhelming,” Starbard said.

There is no limit on the size of outdoor grows. But all marijuana businesses must steer clear of areas that have youth-oriented uses, such as schools, daycares and parks.

In addition, King County is aiming to protect certain kinds of open space, including acreage reserved for growing trees, much of which is in the eastern third of the county.

“So there are thousands of acres of unincorporated King County that we want to maintain only for forest production. So that takes out a huge amount of the unincorporated area,” Starbard said.

The aim is to blend the new marijuana businesses into the fabric of the county inconspicuously.

The new rule will be proposed to the King County Council at the end of this month, after gathering comments in public hearings this week and next.