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Tuesday, Jan 15 2013 06:44 PM

Mojave neighbors irked, supes reject pot business

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors stuck to the letter of Measure G Tuesday when they blocked an exception to the new rule for a Mojave medical marijuana cooperative.

Last month, the county planning department approved the exception, or "variance," to Measure G that would have allowed Chronically Inclined to operate even though it didn't strictly follow the rule. Measure G, approved by voters last year, says medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives can only operate on industrial land and must be at least a mile from schools, day care centers, churches, public parks and other collectives and cooperatives.

The county planning department allowed an exception for Chronically Inclined, the only operating business in a three-unit commercial building at the corner of Business Highway 58 and Highway 14 in Mojave. Instead of the one-mile or more requirement, the variance would've allowed the business to operate within 1,800 feet from a school, day care center, park or church, but no closer.

Chronically Inclined sits about 1,800 feet from a public park and less than a mile from several churches and two schools.

Eugene Lewis, a Mojave pastor, has submitted development plans to operate a church even closer, about 700 feet from Chronically Inclined. Those plans haven't been approved by the county yet. Lewis was the one who appealed the variance, but he wasn't alone in objecting to it at the supervisors' meeting.

Some said they were concerned the variance would create a precedent that would water down the intent of Measure G.

"Measure G was voted in because people need to be protected," said Lewis' wife, Margriet Lewis. "If you allow (the variance) once ... that will be discrimination if you don't allow it again in similar conditions." The Lewises helped gather signatures from almost 200 people opposing the variance.

County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said that the area around Chronically Inclined doesn't have sidewalks and that, plus adjacent railroad tracks and the highway, act as buffers to the nearby schools, residential areas and other "sensitive" land uses.

"This area is very physically separated from the downtown Mojave area," Oviatt said. The lack of sidewalks means people aren't likely to walk by the business, she said.

"We treated this like any other business with a zone variance" in granting the variance, she said.

Sandra Wood has operated Chronically Inclined since 2009. She closed the business on Nov. 6, the day county administrators started imposing fines for violating Measure G.

While it operated, she said, the business attracted no complaints, and 22 other Mojave businesses signed a petition to voice support for the variance. Wood said she would comply with other restrictions from the county, such as limits on signage at the business.

"We will blend into the background," Wood said.

Nevertheless, the supervisors voted unanimously, overturning the variance for Chronically Inclined.

"This is a difficult matter," said Supervisor Leticia Perez. "You're complying in all senses, so I imagine that you're frustrated," she said to Wood. "But I have to give tremendous deference to what (Mojave residents) wish their community to be."

Outside the supervisors' chambers, Wood said she was sad about the decision.

"Staff (in the) county did so much work and they followed all the rules, and it just (failed)," she said. "The Board of Supervisors went against their own staff."

Since Measure G took effect last year, two medical marijuana dispensaries have applied for permits under the new rules, said Scott Denney of the county planning department. One, in Bakersfield, has been approved, and one sits on property that isn't properly zoned and needs to apply for a zone change, he said.

The variance for Chronically Inclined is the first variance, and appeal, since Measure G took effect, he said. Denney granted the variance to Chronically Inclined in December.

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