Green Society Group appeals to Maple Valley hearing examiner on citations

The unsafe notice posted on the front of Green Society Group in Maple Valley. - TJ Martinell, The Reporter
The unsafe notice posted on the front of Green Society Group in Maple Valley.
— image credit: TJ Martinell, The Reporter

Green Society Group has filed a notice of appearance with the Maple Valley Hearing Examiner to contest the city’s stop work order and unsafe notice.

Jay Berneberg, the attorney for GSG owner Chris Schoonover, had initially threatened the city with an emergency injunction, but now is seeking to have the hearing examiner overturn the citations.

A date for the hearing has not yet been determined.

“Hopefully, common sense will prevail,” Berneberg said in a telephone interview. “We’re going to work with the city first. Nobody wants to be hostile here.”

The dispute between GSG and the city arose after the business opened on April 20 without obtaining a tenant improvement permit. The permit is required whenever an occupant makes certain changes to the interior, such as adding walls, modifying exits or adding windows.

Both Schoonover and Berneberg have claimed that when Schoonover attempted to bring in the necessary paperwork to the city, it was refused.

“They ask him to submit plans,” Berneberg said. “When he did, they said ‘We don’t recognize you as a business,’ and then (they) closed them down for not submitting plans.”

Schoonover told the Reporter for a previous story that when his permit was rejected he thought the city official was joking at first.

“He said, ‘We’re not recognizing any permits until the moratorium is lifted,’” Schoonover said. “I thought things were going to come to a resolution.”

When asked about the conversation Schoonover described, Community Development Ty Peterson declined to comment. He stated, however, that while GSG submitted a permit, they failed to respond to several requests by the city for further information concerning a description of use.

The city then placed stop work order and unsafe notices on the front door of the business May 3.

In spite of the stop work order, GSG has continued to remain open for business, which has resulted in several additional citations. Berneberg said he plans to appeal all of them.

Gary McLean is the city’s contracted hearing examiner.

Unlike a court case, an examiner hearing, according to Peterson, is based on the preponderance of the evidence presented.

For the city’s citations to be overturned, GSG would have to prove the city acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner — terms which were also used by Berneberg used to describe the city’s actions — or that it simply never happened at all.

“Most of the time when we issue these, people ask for a mitigation hearing to explain themselves,” Peterson said. “They’re not going to dispute that the violation occurred (in such cases). It’s not an appeal. They’re not going to argue a decision of the city.”

GSG, on the other hand, has to make the case that the city acted unlawfully or without regard for any facts, or that it acted in a biased or vengeful manner, according to Peterson.

The city passed a moratorium on collective gardens and dispensaries in July 2011. Both Schoonover and Berneberg have argued that Green Society Group does not fall under the moratorium.

The City Council is currently considering an ordinance that would ban collective gardens.

A public hearing before the Planning Commission for the proposed ordinance is set for June 6.

Beneberg stated that the stop work order, as well as the collective garden ban proposal, are based on misperceptions the city holds of the businesses like GSG.

“The city’s concerns are based on misinformation about what medical marijuana facilities and co-ops are,” he said. “There are some (facilities) out there that I think fuel the fire for their worst fears. But there are also groups out there that are medical, that are clean facilities that help patients access medicine. GSG is one of those places. I don’t think they know those places exists. I think they think it’s Woodstock all over again. I think their fear is based on ignorance. Ignorance is not stupidity. Ignorance can cured. Hopefully it will play out that way.”



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