Hemp may be coming to Sterling.
The Sterling Planning Commission met Wednesday with two items of new business on their agenda, both related to the property at 200 Hays Ave., the former Mr. D’s Farm and Ranch store.
The first item was a conditional use permit for the cultivation and development of hemp from L7 Ag, LLC.
Public Works Director George Good noted in his report that the hemp grow could be considered a greenhouse, which is permitted as a conditional use in a community business (CB) zone. “The purpose of the conditional use process recognizes that there are a number of uses which may or may not be appropriate in a particular zoning district depending upon all the circumstances of the individual case,” Good explained. “It is the intent of the chapter (in the city code) to provide a comprehensive review of such instances so that the city is assured that these uses are compatible with their locations and surrounding land uses.”
He added that the Planning Commission’s role is to review “the proposed use, intensity of use, and site development plan as it relates to the character of the surrounding area, the desirability and need for such a use in the specific area of the city, the availability of public utilities and services, the potential for environmental or objectionable impacts which could result from its approval, and compliance with the intent and purpose of the ordinance.”
Brad Lebsock, whose family owns the property, explained that they’d like to start growing hemp for seed in a portion of the building. They hope to sell the seed to local producers at a lower cost than the $1 per seed that it can cost now.
The 16,000-square foot building is currently being used for storage, Lebsock noted. They’d use up to half of it for the cultivation, which would involve growing the plants in pots, with grow lights above them. He said growing indoors is better when cultivating for seed because it allows for better control of the air and prevents cross-pollination.
“When you’re doing a seed project, you want to have very pure seeds,” he said.
He noted that the location is fairly distant from any other farm fields.
The plants would be pollinated with a special pollen to grow the correct variety. He noted that the whole operation has to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.
Lebsock said they’d probably employ an average of five people, who would be parking in front of the building when working. He didn’t see it as producing a heavy traffic impact.
The commission members raised questions about odors from the operation affecting people in the area. Lebsock said growing for other products tends to produce more smell than growing for seed, but noted that there are methods to address odors.
He also didn’t believe that the operation would generate any additional noise than an air conditioning system, and said the lights, which could be on 24 hours a day depending on the growing cycle of the plants, will all be inside and the building doesn’t have much in the way of windows.
Lebsock was joined by James Williams of Centennial, who has set up multiple labs in the Front Range area. Williams said growing for seed involves growing male plants, which produce less odor than female plants. In the communities where he has set up labs, he said they have received great feedback.
After closing the public hearing, the commission voted to recommend conditional approval of the permit, with requirements for an odor mitigation plan and possible light mitigation, on a 3-1-1 vote, with Nate Laybourn voting against the motion and Devon Miller abstaining for a personal conflict.
The recommendation will be forwarded to the Sterling City Council for consideration.
The second request from L7 Ag was for a variance to allow for processing of CBD oil. Lebsock explained that they hope to be able to receive crude CBD oil and refine it for manufacturers of CBD oil products such as lotion or food products. Eventually they could start making their own products for white labeling, or selling them to companies that would distribute the products under their own brands.
Lebsock said the building has to be certified by the Food and Drug Administration for the post-refinement of the oil.
Williams explained that the extraction process does not result in any by-product, as everything is captured for further research and development. “Nothing would go down the drain,” he said.
Depending on the process used, Williams said the facility could process a couple of tons of oil every 24 hours, with a ton representing an acre of crop.
Lebsock said adding the processing facility to the building would not likely have a big impact on activity levels in the area. He added that there is not much available in the way of buildings or land in industrial zones, but there are a lot of commercial buildings sitting empty.
“My vision has always been to try to bring jobs in,” he said, adding that manufacturing jobs tend to be higher paying than retail jobs. “They’re going to be going somewhere. The industry’s a growing industry, and I say, why not Sterling.”
After closing the public hearing, Laybourn called for a motion. When none was forthcoming, he moved to deny the variance, and the motion passed on a 3-1-1 vote with Amy Chadim voting against and Miller abstaining.
Laybourn noted that L7 Ag could appeal the commission’s decision.
After the meeting, Laybourn explained that he voted against both applications because the property is not zoned for manufacturing.
Sara Waite: 970-526-9310, email@example.com