High Valley Farms lives to grow another year
June 29, 2016
Jordan Lewis said he was "literally betting the farm" on his pot-growing facility near Basalt. The gamble paid off — for the time being at least.
Pitkin County commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to renew separate, one-year licenses for High Valley Farms, which is co-owned by Lewis and is the cannabis supplier to Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen and other marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.
The approval comes with conditions that relate to the farm's skunk-like pot smell that compelled nearby residents to urge commissioners to revoke the licenses.
Commissioners cautioned Lewis and his associates that they can revoke or suspend the licenses for the entire facility, or portions of it, with just 10 days notice if the stenches persist.
"We won't tolerate another lost summer," said Commissioner Michael Owsley, referring to the ongoing complaints from residents who said the smell was so pungent they couldn't enjoy time outdoors in their neighborhoods, while they kept their home windows shut because of the stench and health concerns.
High Valley Farms also must pay the county for a third party that would monitor the odors. The county would hire the independent party to monitor the greenhouses without influence from High Valley Farms.
Additionally, High Valley Farms is required to meet with commissioners on a quarterly basis until they no longer deem it necessary.
Lewis said a new carbon-filtration system has been online for eight days at one of the greenhouses and the smell has been tamed. Each of the four greenhouses will have its own filtration system. The seven-figure investment was Lewis' ninth-inning bid to get in the good graces of commissioners, who told him at previous meetings that his licenses wouldn't be renewed when they expired Sept. 24 if the smell remained.
"I'm very pleased to come before the board today and let you know we have solved the odor problem," he said, apologizing to the farm's neighbors, the commissioners and his own family.
"This is not going to repeat itself in the future," he said.
Lewis still has three greenhouses that currently aren't operational because of the potential for odors. All four greenhouses were working earlier this year, but after other smell-mitigation systems failed to fix the problem, he scaled back operations.
George Newman, the dissenting commissioner, wished Lewis luck but said he couldn't vote to renew the licenses because he believes the farm is located too close to residential areas and the 25,000-square-foot facility is too large and out of character with the area.
OVERFLOW CROWD DIVIDED
The commissioners' approval of both the retail cultivation and medical marijuana cultivation licenses came at a meeting that saw a spillover crowd of champions and opponents of the four-greenhouse facility, located at 24350 Highway 82 next to the Roaring Fork Club and across the road from the Holland Hills subdivision. After nearly 31/2 hours of meeting downstairs at Aspen City Hall, which the county borrowed because it didn't have enough space in its boardroom, the hearing was relocated to the county building.
The community mood about High Valley Farms has been seemingly mixed. Nearby residents have been complaining that the farm has emitted skunk-like pot smells since it began growing earlier this year. Some said their property values are threatened by the smells.
They had been vocal at previous county meetings about High Valley Farms, which had little public support.
But in recent weeks, High Valley Farms employees had been rallying to get the license renewed, and they showed up in earnest at Wednesday's hearing. Their common theme: High Valley Farms and Silverpeak are excellent, professional employers and have been on the forefront of public education and outreach about legalized marijuana. Some also contended that a small minority of residents was wielding too much clout about the future of a startup business in a pioneer industry.
One part-time employee, Larry Jordan, wore a Bob Marley T-shirt, his hair down to his waist.
"Yes, I do have long hair, but I don't smoke pot; I don't drink," he said. "I attend the Christ Community Church."
Jordan said High Valley Farms, which staffs 75, treats its employees well and pays better than other large employers such as City Market and Whole Foods. He and other workers said they have been incorrectly and unfairly stereotyped as potheads.
But others in attendance, such as Bronwyn Anglin, vice president of the Holland Hills Homeowners Association, said Lewis has not been a good neighbor, and she accused two local writers of intimidating residents into not speaking out against the farm. Other neighbors said they don't like being the subject of the "experiment" by High Valley Farms.
"It's about smell and nothing else, no matter what the newspapers may print from time to time," said Kent Schuler of Holland Hills.
Despite the differences among crowd members, they struck a civil tone without the boos or hisses that came at another recent meeting.
"I don't think there's a lot to say here by saying, 'Here you go — you're out of business,'" Commissioner Rachel Richards said. "That's your punishment. … I think it's about correcting the problem."
Commissioner Steve Child, noting that 75 percent of county residents voted in favor of Amendment 64 in 2012, added he would prefer that county marijuana merchants grow their own pot rather than having it shipped in from Denver.
Commissioner Patti Clapper said the community should be mindful that there are other cannabis growers in the area who could be contributing to the smell.