County approves hemp greenhouse

ALAMOSA — After clarifying greenhouses codes in April, Alamosa County commissioners approved their first special use permit for the installation of a commercial greenhouse for industrial hemp on Wednesday. A special use permit for a vehicle repair facility was also approved at the meeting.

The new hemp business will be located on the 1800 block of Eloquent Lane in Mosca and will utilize eight 2,880 square-foot greenhouses and eight greenhouses that range from 2,000-4000 square feet.

According to Alamosa County Planning and Building Director Rachel Baird’s report, the main purpose is to produce cannabidiol (CBD) oil from the hemp though Eloquent Enterprises, a business venture between Connie Eastman and Andrew Brown, may expand into textiles in the future. The report states that there may be up to five year-round employees and up to 100 extra seasonal employees.

When the meeting opened up for public comments, multiple neighbors voiced concerns about how the agricultural production could put stress on their wells. Commissioner Darius Allen told them that the county’s only focus is approving the commercial greenhouses and that Eastman and Brown can grow hemp outside without a permit since industrial hemp is allowed by right in rural zoned districts.

“The water issue is totally separate than what they applied for,” Allen said. “They applied for their greenhouses...Water concerns are for the state of Colorado, not the county of Alamosa.”

Pat McDermott from the Colorado Division of Water Resources repeated what was in Baird’s report and stated that there will be irrigation limitations. Water from the wells can’t exceed 70 acres within a historical service area. Additionally, the combined pumping volume cannot exceed an annual maximum of 120 acre-feet and an annual average of 60 acre-feet.

“We cut a deal,” McDermott said. “This will take [Connie Eastman] off of the abandonment list, she’ll have two brand new permits, and really she won’t be eligible for abandonment until 2030. It reduces the potential use of the water right down to what the state and division engineers believe is the historic level.”

According to McDermott this sort of deal is not uncommon with water rights.

“It is a time to tighten our belts and we see this as a tool to do that,” he said. “Ms. Eastman is not the only water right owner in the San Luis Valley that [Division Engineer] Craig Cotten has negotiated future use with.”

San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Heather Dutton provided a letter to Baird that states the district has water available for the proposed project. Additionally, the letter says the district “will utilize an existing recharge location and conveyance agreement with a nearby ditch company to bring water from the Rio Grande to within three miles of the property.”

A few neighbors said in written comments that officials had already decided on the permit since they saw construction without one and thought it was pointless to attend the planning commission meeting. Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond disagreed with that statement.

“I want to make it clear that we don’t make a decision until today,” Sigmond said. “People are certainly welcome to comment and we heard you comment even if we might vote against what you feel is right. We’re considering all factors when making a decision.”

The reason for the unpermitted construction was due to an internal miscommunication error in the land use department. Brown paid for a building permit before receiving a special use permit and thought he was cleared to initiate work on the greenhouses. Once the department discovered the violation, building inspector Jinger Tilden issued a stop order. Since receiving the order Brown said there has been no work on the greenhouses, but his employees are still working on the field like they’re allowed to do.

“I absolutely was working, however there was no work on the greenhouse,” said Brown. “Everything I did I ran by Rachel [Baird] to make sure I was allowed to till and work on irrigation.”

Another neighbor alleged that people are sleeping in the barn but Brown denied that. He said that their current hours are 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. so people are there late at night but they are not residing there. The county still has to investigate the complaint.

Along with employees, one Mosca resident spoke in favor of the project. Nathan Tymitz addressed the other neighbors’ comments on traffic and light nuisance.

“The only traffic nuisance I’ve ever seen there is other neighbors,” Tymitz said. “None of the employees are being a nuisance. There’s no noise nuisance, no light nuisance...It’s very noninvasive to our community and they are providing jobs that are above minimum wage. This community does need that...From my point of view it should be embraced.”

The commissioners approved the permit unanimously.

“I believe so strong in private property rights and I believe so strong in agriculture,” Allen said. “Whether Ms. Eastman has 60 acre-feet of water to use in a year on hemp, or whether she has 60 acre-feet of water to use on alfalfa, it still can be used...It’s her water to use agriculturally. She can grow grain or potatoes or hemp.”

During Wednesday’s meeting the commissioners also unanimously approved a permit for a new 12,000 square-foot, 10 bay automotive repair shop at 8010 10th Street.

Scott and Carmen Duran, owners of Scott’s Paint and Body on State Avenue, said they’ve outgrown their current location and that the new place will have additional parking and allow for the possible expansion into car rentals. Though the facility will be less than 1,000 feet from the Alamosa Elementary School, the Durans will build the shop in the southwest corner of the lot to create a buffer.