Deschutes County is planning to transfer ownership of a parcel of county-owned land in La Pine’s industrial park to the city to stimulate economic development, but there’s one conspicuous string attached.
The Deschutes County Commission voted Wednesday to move forward on a proposal to donate an approximately half-acre parcel at the corner of Hinkle Way and Reed Road, in the northwestern corner of La Pine’s Newberry Business Park. The city could then sell the land to a private developer, and would likely lease the building back to offer it to a tenant at a discount.
However, a provision in the deed prohibits that tenant’s involvement in the marijuana industry, in part, to shield the county commission from the notion that it’s subsidizing an industry that remains illegal at the federal level.
“The perception is that we’re in business with a marijuana business,” Commissioner Tammy Baney said after the meeting.
Near the end of January, Cory Misley, La Pine’s city manager, and Ryan Culp, who handles economic development for Sunriver and La Pine, asked the county commission about the possibility of an ownership transfer, which would give the city about $25,000 in additional economic development funding.
James Lewis, property manager for Deschutes County, said the agreement adheres to the original purpose of the county-owned parcel, which was donated by the federal Bureau of Land Management in the 1980s to be used for industrial development in the area. Culp added that the transfer provides a creative way for the city to get a building constructed, something that companies prefer to have in place when buying a parcel.
“That donation will help the city and county together to be a lot more nimble,” Culp said.
However, the agreement includes language mandating the building not be used for any purpose that violates federal law for the next 20 years, or it will be returned to county ownership. During the January meeting, county commissioners expressed their desire to ensure that a marijuana-related business not occupy the space.
“If we’re going to be guilty of something, I’d like to have a say in what we’re guilty of,” Baney added during Wednesday’s meeting.
Lewis and Culp said the main intent of the provision is to diversify a local economy that has become increasingly reliant on marijuana. Culp declined to provide an official number of marijuana growing, production and packaging businesses in the city but said “fewer than 10” are operating or have received a permit from the city.
He acknowledged that the industry has a significant impact on La Pine’s comparatively small industrial sector. For that reason, county Commissioner Phil Henderson said the city and county should focus on other industries.
“If we’re going to subsidize this, we really want to diversify the economy,” Henderson said.
However, at least one member of the cannabis industry wasn’t happy with the approach. Jennifer Clifton, founder of Bend-based Clifton Cannabis Law and president of the local advocacy group Cascade Cannabis, wrote in an email that the cannabis industry is legal and economically profitable within Deschutes County, and businesses shouldn’t be singled out for exclusion.
“It is my hope that in the future, we will see demonstrated support and leadership for our entire business community and not pick winners and losers,” Clifton wrote.
Henderson acknowledged that optics play a factor, as well. While marijuana production is legal in La Pine’s city limits and unincorporated portions of Deschutes County, Baney said it can put the commission in an uncomfortable position when the county co-signs leases, as it is required to under an intergovernmental agreement for properties that are owned by the county within La Pine’s city limits.
She added that a resident has accused the commission of bias in the past because of the relationship. Agreements like this, Baney said, forgo revenue, but allow the county to sidestep perceived conflicts of interest.
“It’s not a unanimously supported industry,” Henderson added.
Culp said La Pine’s focus was less on prohibiting marijuana and more on helping other aspects of the city’s economy flourish. Culp said the city’s industrial area, which includes both Newberry Business Park and Finley Butte Industrial Park, includes about 350 acres. Of that area, 200 acres have been bought by private buyers. While he said the existing buildings are fully occupied, he added that not having buildings ready for companies has caused the city to lose out on deals.
“The politics and the optics aren’t really where we play,” Culp said. “We just want to see the economy grow.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org