Pierce County has conceded a stretch of state Route 7 in Spanaway isn’t as “scenic” as its state designation implies.
The conclusion means the county won’t enforce a buffer preventing licensed marijuana businesses from opening on parts of the highway.
The news comes as part of a settlement between the county and the owners of The Gallery, a state-licensed marijuana store with locations in Parkland and Spanaway.
“They finally copped to the argument we were making that that stretch of scenic highway has nothing about it that’s ‘scenic’,” said The Gallery co-owner Tedd Wetherbee.
Wetherbee and business partner Mike Henery sued Pierce County earlier this year after the County Council approved restrictions preventing marijuana businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of a road designated as a scenic and recreational highway.
Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, proposed the buffer, saying marijuana businesses do not belong on the busy thoroughfare that traverses his district.
Reached Monday, McCune said he didn’t think he could comment on the settlement.
“A lot of stuff was done in executive session, and I don’t think I am at liberty to say anything,” he said.
State law gives counties the authority to remove the designation where a road no longer meets the state’s criteria for a scenic route, said Mark Nelson, attorney for Wetherbee and Henery.
You really can’t be a scenic highway if you have commercial or industrial uses.
Doug Richardson, Pierce County Council chairman
Commercial businesses surrounding The Gallery’s location at 21802 Mountain Highway E. include junk yards, storage facilities, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.
The high number of commercial businesses made it clear that stretch of state Route 7 would not comply with the state’s definition of a scenic highway, County Council Chairman Doug Richardson said.
That makes it hard to legally enforce the buffer, the Lakewood Republican said.
“You really can’t be a scenic highway if you have commercial or industrial uses,” he said.
The 1,000-foot buffer still applies elsewhere on the 30-mile stretch of designated highway, Richardson said, but the restriction on marijuana business is likely to be considered “moot” in commercially zoned areas.
That means the buffer could have little effect on future licensed marijuana businesses looking to open in designated commercial zones on the highway.
Attorneys for the county and The Gallery confirmed the settlement Monday, four days before the parties were due back in Pierce County Superior Court.
“The county agreed they would not enforce that scenic highway buffer in return for Tedd and Mike’s agreement not to pursue the lawsuit,” Nelson said.
They finally copped to the argument we were making that that stretch of scenic highway has nothing about it that’s ‘scenic’.”
Tedd Wetherbee, co-owner The Gallery
Henery and Wetherbee also agreed not ask the county to pay legal costs.
“We know the people of Pierce County have wasted enough money already on this and we weren’t going to saddle them with $112,000 in attorney’s fees,” Wetherbee said.
He was referring to the $425,000 the county spent on its April 26 advisory vote that asked unincorporated voters whether marijuana businesses should be allowed in unincorporated parts of the county.
Stewart Estes, the Seattle attorney representing the county, said the county opted to settle instead of contest the suit because it felt Superior Court Judge Katherine M. Stolz would side with The Gallery.
At the end of June, Stolz granted a temporary injunction ordering the county not to enforce the 1,000-foot buffer when it became law July 1.
“We felt she would make the same decision at trial,” Estes said.
A week after Stolz’s ruling the county hearing examiner reviewed The Gallery’s application for a conditional use permit. The permit was approved July 26.
The Gallery opened its Spanaway location in February in violation of county code. The recent approval of the conditional use permit means the business finally is in accordance with county regulations.
“Everybody’s happy,” Wetherbee said. “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the county.”