Another debate over marijuana grow sites has sprung up — this time about whether growers can install towers with security cameras to keep watch over their valuable plants.
The Jackson County Development Services Department denied two applications this summer to install 30-foot-tall towers with security cameras at a grow site on Jacksonville's outskirts and another property north of Eagle Point.
LaNier Land Consulting, which is representing Spencer Mullen for the Jacksonville site and JJ Farms OR LCC for the Eagle Point site, is trying again in hopes the county will change its mind.
A tower at the Jacksonville site, home to a large-scale outdoor marijuana grow, already has been installed. Grow operations haven't yet started at the Eagle Point-area site, according to Megan LaNier, owner of the consulting company.
The Jacksonville grower was caught in a bind by Jackson County's denial, LaNier said, because the Oregon Liquor Control Commission requires security cameras for recreational marijuana grows.
Mounting security cameras high on towers could be cost-effective for growers — but could be another point of friction with neighbors who have swamped county officials with complaints about skunk-like odors from plants, noise, increased traffic, barking guard dogs, water use and other nuisances.
Jackson County will hold public hearings about the proposed towers on Monday, Oct. 3, in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.
The first, for a property in the 5400 block of Butte Falls Highway north of Eagle Point, is at 10:30 a.m. The second is for a property in the 5000 block of Highway 238 on Jacksonville's outskirts and is set for 1:30 p.m.
Green Shield Security Experts created the security plans for the two properties.
Owner Ashley Michael said security camera towers long have been used in various industries and at airports.
"I'm bringing them to the marijuana industry," he said. "They provide excellent coverage with fewer cameras. It's a new thing for the marijuana industry."
With towers, far fewer cameras need to be used to keep watch over grow sites. Instead of dozens of cameras scattered on fences, four cameras can monitor plants, he said.
"They're more cost-effective and coverage on the (marijuana plant) canopy is better because they're higher," he said. "They're more adjustable. If you make changes to the facility, it's easier to re-point a camera."
Michael said he doesn't know yet whether camera towers will be the wave of the future for marijuana grows.
"It's a new move," he said.
If Jackson County had given quick, easy approval for the Jacksonville and Eagle-Point area towers, they would have been a cost-effective choice. However, with the applicants now having to go through a more rigorous land-use planning process, any cost advantage is likely to evaporate, LaNier said.
"It could be a wash financially," she said.
LaNier said tall structures on farmland are common. She pointed to the example of orchard windmills.
"It's a little bit of discrimination. Were we expecting that because it's marijuana? Sure," she said.
The public hearings will help county officials learn whether neighbors and others have strong opinions about security towers at marijuana grows.
A neighbor of the Jacksonville grow site, who wanted only her first name Diana used, said she was worried about privacy.
"I don't know if they'll be spying on us," she said.
LaNier Land Consulting says the cameras will not capture images from neighboring property.
"The security cameras will NOT be directed to record anything other than the subject property," the consulting company said in documents submitted to the Jackson County Development Services Department. "The applicant's security consultant has provided a letter stating that all equipment will be calibrated to only record to the property line or the canopy site."
Diana said her biggest concern about the nearby grow site — now in its first season of operation — is skunk-like odors usually produced by marijuana plants in the fall as they mature.
"The worst thing for me is I'm anticipating the smell. That's the part I dread," she said. "Normally, I really look forward to being able to open my windows to let in night breezes. We've lived here one year. I'm hoping it won't drive us out."
Diana said she had hoped the rural property would be developed into a vineyard, not a marijuana grow site. Her deck looks out on the grow.
Other neighbors, Dave and Vickie Kiser, said they hadn't been bothered yet by the marijuana grow. But both said they are against the use of marijuana and other drugs.
Vickie Kiser said she had to close her downtown Medford quilt shop after a medical marijuana dispensary moved in nearby. Many of her quilt shop customers were frightened away by the rough appearance of some of the marijuana business clients, she said.
"We're predisposed against this stuff," Dave Kiser said.
Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding said many marijuana grow sites have cameras mounted on fences, pointing in toward plants.
In March, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners adopted county regulations governing marijuana facilities — regulations that are on top of state laws. County rules require cameras to record only the marijuana facility property and not intrude on neighboring parcels.
The issue of tall security towers is not covered by the county regulations.
Madding said towers are allowed on land zoned for exclusive farm use, where the two marijuana grow sites at issue are located. Tall structures are used for a variety of agricultural needs, including farm sprinkler systems, she noted.
After the public hearings, Madding said she will make a tentative staff decision about the applications. Her decision can be appealed to a hearings officer.