The Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 against recommending a zoning change to allow Bayacan, LLC to move forward with a commercial cannabis grow site at a greenhouse on the NatureSweet facility in Bonita.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – The Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 against recommending a zoning change for Bayacan, LLC, to enable it to cultivate cannabis in an existing greenhouse at the NatureSweet facility in Bonita. The P+Z chairman abstained from the vote.
The Graham County Board of Supervisors will make the decision on the proposed zoning change at its meeting Monday, Dec. 21, starting at 8 a.m.
Bayacan, LLC is attempting to rezone approximately 117 acres from A – General Land Use Classification to the M-X Unlimited Manufacturing Land Use Classification to operate a cannabis cultivation facility within existing greenhouses on the property, located at the southeast corner of West Ash Creek Road and South Marinette Avenue. The parcel is just part of NatureSweet’s 479-acre parcel, which has multiple greenhouses where they grow tomatoes.
The owner of Bayacan, Frank van Straalen, was formerly involved with “The Pharm”, a 7-acre medical marijuana cultivation facility in Cochise County. He branched off into looking to expand into space at NatureSweet’s greenhouse facility in Bonita, and add a 53-acre grow site. Frank van Straalen also formerly worked at EuroFresh, which operated the site before selling to NatureSweet. The former owner of EuroFresh is also an investor in Bayacan. With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arizona, the demand for cannabis is expected to increase greatly. As a producer, Bayacan is looking to sell marijuana to dispensaries, which are currently all still medical marijuana only, however, the dispensaries will be the first to apply for recreational licenses as well.
The company is looking to hire 100 to 150 people at the beginning and possibly grow that number to 600. The company advised that with the capital expenditures it plans on having to retrofit the facility for cannabis (including hundreds of construction jobs) the initial start-up will generate $38.3 million in economic output. According to a Rounds Consulting Group, Inc. analysis, once completed and fully operational by year six, the company could employ 606 people at the cultivation site and will support another 888 workers in the region. The economic impact – by year six – is expected to be nearly $300 million and generate tax revenue to Graham County of about $550,000 annually, according to the study.
The Graham County Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter in support of the zoning change to the BOS.
“Approval of this request will result in much-needed employment and tax revenue to our region,” the letter stated. “Bayacan, LLC is a member of our Chamber, and held a job fair on Saturday, Dec. 12 as well as tours of their facility for Chamber Board members on Thursday, December 3, Thursday, December 10, and Monday, December 14. We witnessed precise professionalism and impressive standard operating procedures from their operations manager, compliance manager, agricultural operations manager, and human resources manager.”
Comments from area residents on an article regarding the proposed zoning change expressed concerns regarding the impact of the area’s water table, air pollution, and any lingering product smell.