Buckley City Councilman Marvin Sundstrom sees a striking irony in how businesses are developing in this town of 4,500 residents in the shadow of Mount Rainier.
The city already is one of only two Pierce County cities that allow marijuana retailers within its city limits (the other is Tacoma), and construction has just begun on a marijuana growing and processing operation on the city’s main highway.
But Buckley has no supermarket. Its only grocery closed down a year ago.
“People can buy all the marijuana they want in Buckley, (but) they have to travel to Bonney Lake or Enumclaw to buy groceries,” said Sundstrom, a retired Boeing engineer in his third year on the council.
The city wants to attract another grocery store. But the hottest prospect for the former supermarket site seems to be another marijuana grower — one whose plans now are on hold while Buckley contemplates how it wants real estate along state Route 410 to develop.
In October, Sundstrom proposed, and the council unanimously approved, a six-month moratorium on approval of further cannabis growing and processing operations.
The city’s concern was not so much that it disapproved of legalized marijuana, said Mayor Pat Johnson, but that it wanted a mix of businesses that would generate more tax revenues for the city located along its most highly used artery.
The two marijuana retailers now located in Buckley generate about $100,000 for the city. The city used the money to hire a 10th police officer. Buckley officials said they felt a moral obligation to spend the cannabis money on law enforcement in case the weed sales generated more criminal activity — although so far there have not been such ill effects, according to the mayor.
City officials are concerned that marijuana growing and processing operations, on the other hand, will generate little additional revenue for the city while occupying land with relatively high customer traffic exposure. The city has no business and occupation tax, which taxes businesses on their gross sales. Buckley formerly imposed such a tax, but abandoned it several years ago.
“We found it was a negative incentive for businesses,” said Sundstrom. “And it cost us more to collect it than it generated.”
The moratorium will allow the city’s planning commission to study whether changes are needed to the zoning along Route 410 to encourage more retail development and less manufacturing, processing and storage.
Mark Muntz, proprietor of the city’s new marijuana and processing business, said he was pleased to get his project in before the city’s moratorium. He’s spending “millions” to construct marijuana production facilities at 28485 State Route 410 East that, after their June opening, will employ some 30 workers at peak times.
He’s named the business “Mr. Grimm Prime Cannabis.” Muntz says he located the business in Buckley because the city had already passed rules and regulations to govern marijuana businesses.
“It was like ‘Come on in,’ ” he said.
The marijuana growing operation attracted little opposition from citizens. An adjoining property owner wrote the city that his main concern was not about the product but about potential runoff from the operation’s buildings and parking lots onto his property.
The business submitted plans to the city showing three buildings on the property. One building would house the growing and processing operation. Another building would be an administrative office. A third building for growing would be constructed in a second phase of the project as demand rose.
The city’s design review committee required Muntz’s buildings to blend with the historic rural industrial design theme of the former timber town. They will be painted in earth tones and feature a decorative porch and ersatz windows on the exterior.
But no matter how inconspicuous the buildings are, city officials say they must consider whether businesses like Muntz’s and others are the best use of prime land.
At the same time the council froze new permits for marijuana growing operations, it did the same for contractor storage and equipment yards. Those businesses also don’t generate sales taxes. But stores, restaurants — and supermarkets — do.
“We would have more flexibility to spend that money where we most need it,” Sundstrom said.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663