We guess, in some strange way, we have to thank the denial-happy Deschutes County Board of Commissioners for being so creative in the way it has—without any defining language to support it—interpreted the term "Youth Activity Center" within the Deschutes County Code.
With the state Land Use Board of Appeals recently telling the Commission to "try again" in its denial of a marijuana farm in rural Deschutes County, county officials are now tasked with going back and amending the code to better define what a Youth Activity Center actually is. And that's not a bad thing.
Last month, LUBA struck down the County Commission's decision to deny a land-use permit to Waveseer of Oregon, which aims to build a marijuana farm in the rural county. In February, the Commission voted 2-0 to deny Waveseer's application because its proposed facility would have been within 1,000 feet of Rhinestone Ranch, a property that offers "horseback riding lessons for all ages and levels of riders," according to the ranch's website.
Commissioners Phil Henderson and Patti Adair (Tony DeBone was absent) claimed the ranch met the criteria for being a Youth Activity Center, even while, as LUBA later pointed out, Deschutes County's code offers absolutely no description of what is meant by the term.
When discussing another application in January, Henderson loosely defined a YAC as "a place where youth are active, and it's centered there."
Fortunately, LUBA has finally intervened on this issue, ordering the County to go back and actually define the term.
"[T]he county's interpretation of youth activity center is so amorphous and uncertain that we conclude it is unreasonable," LUBA wrote.
LUBA board member Melissa Ryan even went so far as to pen a concurring opinion which poked holes in the Commissioners' interpretation of "center" as a verb, when it was actually used, in the code, as a noun. We took this extra effort as confirmation that this issue is indeed quite inane—even to those not following along as closely as we have in recent years.
What's unsettling about this situation: it's likely going to require more of the very "over-regulation" that Republicans try to avoid – and it is going to cost taxpayers. All three county commissioners are Republicans, and Adair proudly ran on a platform of cutting the fat in the county budget. However, amending county code requires staff time to draw up the new language, public hearings and a public comment period—all requiring additional publicly funded staff time.
While likely not exactly the intention of the majority anti-marijuana Board of Commissioners, LUBA's recent ruling could also see more regulation of these nebulous "Youth Activity Centers." While what actually emerges in any pending amendments to the county code is yet to be seen, it could be that property owners will now have to complete an application and take part in a vetting process in order to gain the distinction of being a YAC. Thus, the YAC debate has further unintended bureaucratic ramifications.
A YAC designation could—and should—come with health and safety inspections, so as to verify not only that the center is actually serving primarily a youth population, but also that the space is safe for that more-vulnerable population. Marijuana farms are subject to rigorous inspections and fall under rigorous health and safety guidelines. Shouldn't it follow that centers dedicated to youth should be also inspected and regulated—especially if those centers are being used as human shields to keep the "dangerous" marijuana farms at bay?
Whatever your stance on marijuana farming, having a clear definition of a YAC is a good thing. It will help those investing in the development of a prospective marijuana farm get a clear picture of where they cannot make plans for a farm, and thus, more clearly define where they can.
However, opening up this can of worms could see the Commission throwing out the Youth Activity Center term altogether. Stranger things have happened.
For Adair and Henderson, who continue to object to the farming of legal marijuana, opposing these farm applications in farm zones is likely worth the legal and financial cost. But for the rest of the state, which has moved on from being opposed to an industry that's been legal in our state for four years, it's clear that this is becoming an increasingly costly battle, fought on moral grounds, that should have its culmination at the ballot box.