Marijuana farm located south of Gypsum gets approval for 40-acre expansion
Pot Zero operation promotes its organic operations and commitment to net zero carbon footprint
A two-acre marijuana cultivation and processing operation located approximately 12 miles south of Gypsum is poised to get a lot larger after netting an expansion approval from Eagle County.
TNT Botanicals — which does business under the brand Pot Zero — can now expand to 40 acres of outdoor cultivation. Pot Zero’s crops are organically cultivated without the use of chemicals and the company bills itself as the only zero carbon footprint marijuana cultivation operation in Colorado.
During a six-week review of the expansion plan, county officials expressed their support for the company’s sustainability focus but noted concerns regarding compliance with fire code and emergency access regulations. Officials also cited concerns that the existing special use permit for the operation was out of compliance. Eventually, however, the county and the company were able to hammer out operational conditions to address the issues.
TNT Botanicals is located at a 384-acre, resource-zoned property along Gypsum Creek Road. Its water supply comes from permitted storage ponds on site. In addition to the current two acres of outdoor cultivation, the operation includes 8,500 square feet of greenhouse space for processing and extraction operations. This operation was out of compliance with the specifics of the county’s initial special use permit. Addressing those shortcomings was a key component of the expanded special use request.
Along with expanding cultivation to 40 acres, the new permit application includes 25,600 square feet of processing and extraction facilities and that presented a major sticking point for the application. By defining marijuana processing as an industrial use, the county regulations required an indoor sprinkler system. During the hearing process, the TNT Botanicals crew vehemently objected to that requirement, arguing it was an unreasonable application of the rules that represented a real threat to its business.
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“If a tomato farmer hung his tomatoes upside down … the fact that they are hanging their tomatoes upside down wouldn’t be considered industrial processing,” argued TNT Botanicals planner Chris Green. Rather, he noted, converting tomatoes into tomato sauce would represent industrial processing. He likened TNT’s processing to the first example rather than the second — noting that the effort largely involves simply drying out the plants.
“The only real issue that I have with the fire suppression issue is if the sprinklers go off, it would destroy everything,” said Rob Trotter, TNT Botanicals owner. He said an unnecessary sprinkler system could potentially destroy millions of dollars worth of product.
“There is really no real world danger up there. It has all been created by code,” Trotter said.
Christine DeHaviland, a manager at Pot Zero, said Trotter has been very proactive about fire precautions, particularly during last summer’s devastating wildlife season.
“We have always felt safe and secure on the farm,” she noted. “Before I even had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Trotter (about fire precautions) I realized he had fire hose laid out all over the farm.”
That proactive action is indicative of the overall operation, according to Green. He noted Pot Zero has received national recognition for its product and its commitment to a zero carbon footprint.
“Check off all the sustainability boxes for them. They are good at what they do,” Green said
Ponds and containers
During the county’s review process, the TNT Botanicals crew was able to develop a fire mitigation proposal with the Gypsum Fire Protection District. That plan calls for sprinkler installation in a barn building and “early fire detection” measures at shipping containers on site. Additionally, storage ponds on site will maintain sufficient water for fire suppression efforts.
“There were a number of life and safety issues for this application and we believe that we have paid serious attention to those,” Green said. Additionally, he noted TNT submitted a building permit this week for structures located on an upper bench of the property, fencing and pond grading. That action will address compliance issues regarding the previous special use, he said.
The clock has been ticking throughout the TNT application process and that is particularly true for 2021’s growing season. The operation plans to expand cultivation to 10 acres this year, address the conditions that are part of the special use permit, and then expand up to 40 acres as market conditions warrant.
“I really do appreciate the amount of work that has gone into this plan,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “I agree with the staff’s work on this and that this is a file that meets our standard for a special use permit.”
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry acknowledged there has been some frustration from the TNT Botanicals team through the six-week county process.
“But what we have before us now is a much stronger file,” she said. “We can clearly say we think this file clearly meets the standards for a special use permit.”
“I am very excited about the industry and the work you are doing up Gypsum Creek — the net zero, organic nature,” Chandler-Henry added. “I think it’s really a leader in the industry and I am very glad to have it in Eagle County.”
Commissioner Matt Scherr concurred. “For this really innovative project, I think we were all hoping that we could get this to a place where it could succeed.”
With the addition of 12 conditions, the commissioners unanimously approved the TNT Botanicals permit Tuesday.