Originally Published: December 9, 2015 6:01 a.m.
Editor's note: This is the second part of an occasional series that looks at the medical marijuana business in the Quad Cities.
It's no accident that Chino Valley has become a flashpoint of controversy over growing medical marijuana. The seeds of the growing controversy were planted by the University of Arizona decades ago.
"Chino was identified a long time ago, like more than 20 years ago, as one of the top three regions in the state," said John Morgan, the dean at Yavapai College's Career and Technical Education campus near the airport. "You want your greenhouses between the (4,000) and 6,000 feet elevations, because that's where you find the true four seasons, that's critical."
Morgan was one of the people who spoke in favor of the medical marijuana grow industry in Chino Valley at the Nov. 17 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
"You want good water, you don't want a bunch of pollution, so you need good sunlight," Morgan said. "Then you need the right kind of water too ... and that Big Chino aquafer is pretty good water. It's (Chino Valley), Willcox and Snowflake that are the top three regions in the state.
"(Chino Valley) has been the most sought after because it's closer to amenities. If you go to Willcox you're still kind of isolated, same thing in Snowflake, not as much necessarily available either in terms of workforce, and those kinds of things."
The reason four seasons is critical is that it keeps costs down for the growers, Morgan said. If you try to grow in Phoenix, your air conditioning bills in the summer for a large facility would dramatically increase costs. Same with the heating costs during winter if you try to grow in a colder city.
Chino Valley Mayor Chris Marley said there are other reasons as well.
"Although Chino Valley is a generally conservative community and resides in an Active Management Area insofar as water restrictions are concerned, the extremely low land prices and Chino's agricultural heritage have made the town attractive for greenhouse facilities," Marley wrote in an email.
Marley and the rest of the town council directed the town's Planning and Zoning Commission and staff to recommend changes to the unified code that would further restrict the marijuana industry after an outpouring of anti-marijuana comments to council members from residents.
"As land use in Chino comes under greater scrutiny (possibly resulting in greater restrictions), we will probably see more greenhouses spring up in the county and surrounding communities."
There are three active medical marijuana grow facilities in Chino Valley. A fourth one is in development.
Mike O'Connor, who owns the land one of the medical marijuana grow facilities on Road 1 East operates on, said he and his wife, Kate O'Connor-Massey, were approached by a number of companies about growing marijuana on their farm land and turned down most of them. Only after they did some research did they agree.
"All the big companies that are here in Chino also have huge facilities down in the Valley. Why do they even bother with Chino?" O'Connor said. "Well, because it's got excellent light quality, moderate climate, and it's away from all the white flies and everything down in the Valley. Yes, they love Chino Valley for the clean water, the sunshine, and generally the access to natural gas.
"It's got all the pluses going that a (horticulture) grower would ever want, which also happens to be the same thing that marijuana growers are looking for."
O'Connor said that despite this being an ideal area to grow marijuana in, it's very unlikely too many more growers will be able to set up shop in Chino Valley.
"Three years ago when we were trying to get approval for a grow site, we went through the Chino Valley map and even with the zoning regulations as they stand, there are very few properties that would qualify for a grow site, without any changes (to the current zoning laws) at all. It's pretty heavily restricted. Ruth Mayday (the town's director of developmental services) will tell you there's just not that many large parcels left."
Mayday did say that during an August interview. Those few parcels that are available, however, do remain desirable.
"We're right up there, Chino in particular, as one of the areas that's best in the world to grow in," Morgan said.
Follow Ken Sain on Twitter @ksainjr. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2021, or 928-420-5341 or email him at email@example.com.