Medical marijuana facility gets go-ahead

Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

The proposed medical marijuana growth facility last week sailed through the Jefferson County Commission's review and approval process without a hitch.
In no more than 15 minutes, Planning Official Shannon Metty introduced the proposal; engineer Sean Marston, of Urban Catalyst Consultants in Tallahassee, gave an overview of the project; and the board unanimously voted to approve the facility as a major development and special exception, with not a single question asked.
“This application has met all the requirements of the Jefferson County Land Development Code,” Metty told the board in her brief comments. “It is the recommendation of the Planning Commission and planning staff that the project be approved for development.”
The only citizens to speak on the issue were Paul Henry and Bud Wheeler, chairman of the Jefferson County Commission. Both expressed support for the project.
Henry noted that unlike the controversial amateur sports facility commonly known as the game changer, the marijuana facility wasn't asking for taxpayers' money and it was creating jobs.
“This is tremendous that they are coming to the county,” he said.
And Wheeler affirmed the Planning
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respected Jefferson County family, were associated with the project.
Metty in her introductory comments touched on the proposal's major points, including that Trulieve, a state-licensed medical marijuana company with a processing operation in Gadsden County, was behind the venture; that the facility here would be for the growth of marijuana only, with the plants to be transported to Gadsden County for processing and distribution; that the 85-acre parcel on which the facility was to be located was appropriately zoned agricultural; and that the surrounding property owners had raised no objections, so long as the facility was only for growing the medical marijuana indoors.
Marston followed with an overview of the project, noting that the facility would be off U.S. 27, about a half mile east of the Waukeenah Highway. He said the master plan called for the construction to be accomplished in four phases, in the end resulting in three buildings of 250,000 sq. feet each and four buildings of 24,000 sq. feet each, plus a 365-space parking lot.
He said the first phase would entail construction of the first 250,000 sq. foot building and the hiring of 150 employees, with each subsequent phase to result in additional buildings and hirings until the operation reached a total of 300 employees.
The operation, he said, would run 24-7, have security fencing all around the property, security cameras and personnel indoors, and would be shielded from public view by a 50-foot natural vegetation buffer all around.
He said the potable and fire-protection water would be provided by the Jefferson Communities Water System, septic tanks would be used initially until the facility could connect to Monticello's sewer system, and wells would provide the irrigation water.
He said the traffic report had indicated that minimal impact would occur on U.S. 27, that the cultural and environmental surveys had shown no significant features on the land, and that noise and odor from the facility would be negligible.
The issue of pay did not come up at the commission meeting. At the earlier review of the Planning Commission, however, Fred Beshears, of Simpson Nurseries, who described himself as being peripherally involved with the project, said the pay would be commensurate with the area.
He said the starting rate would be $10 or $11 hourly and go up from there. Management and office positions, moreover, would get paid more, he said. He noted, however, that the greenhouse jobs would require a level of technical skill, as the operation would be a highly-technical and robotic. The skills required, however, weren't anything that anyone of average intelligence couldn't master, he said.
Construction on the facility could begin as early as this year, with operation expected to go into production sometime in 2020.