Council set to weigh pot rule revisions
A ban on new marijuana businesses in the downtown core, a special permit review that would involve the city’s planning commission and a greatly increased 900-foot setback between shops are among options before Glenwood Springs City Council this Thursday.
The options were among the ideas discussed at a council work session in early July regarding possible revisions to the city’s existing licensing and land-use regulations for retail and medical marijuana businesses.
Council is set to consider on first reading an amended ordinance making one or more of the various rules changes that have since been refined by city staff, according to Community Development Director Andrew McGregor.
A change in the required distance between marijuana establishments from the existing setback of 325 feet is the one rules fix that gained the most support from council after it imposed a 90-day moratorium on new marijuana license and land-use applications in late May.
The moratorium was in response to public concerns about a proliferation of new retail marijuana license applications in the downtown area between Sixth and 10th streets.
A change to 900 feet in the minimum setback from one business to another would allow existing facilities to remain, but would preclude any new businesses in the downtown area, McGregor said in a memo to council for the Thursday meeting.
“No existing uses would be rendered nonconforming,” he said of one of the concerns expressed by council members in changing the rules with businesses already in place.
One proposed new retail shop at 818 Grand Ave. that is slated for a license hearing next month would, however, be nonconforming if it gets approved, he said.
Changing the setback has its pluses in achieving council’s goals, McGregor indicated, by maintaining the status quo in the downtown area and north Glenwood while keeping opportunities open for south and west Glenwood areas.
The other two options up for consideration, including a ban on any marijuana businesses within the designated boundaries of the Downtown Development Authority, or a full special-use permit review for new proposals, would be far more limiting.
A ban in the downtown core would render several existing businesses, including two medical marijuana dispensaries and the Green Joint/Green Medicine Wellness retail and medical facility, as nonconforming.
That would mean they may not be allowed a license renewal or transfer of ownership if any major changes are made to the respective businesses.
“This option might have merit if there is a perception that marijuana sales are not compatible with our most concentrated tourist and hospitality area of the city,” McGregor wrote in his memo.
A special-use permit for marijuana businesses would add an extra, more discretionary layer of regulatory review through a formal public hearing process, he noted.
Such a permit would have to be considered by the city’s planning and zoning commission, whose decision could be appealed to City Council.
Though a more public process that is “legally defensible,” and one used by numerous other communities in Colorado that have allowed sales of retail marijuana, it does increase the time and cost needed for new businesses to gain their approvals, McGregor noted.
“It does become a discretionary process, thus reducing certainty and predictability on behalf of the prospective business owner,” he said in his memo.
When the moratorium on new marijuana licenses was put in place, council decided not to have it apply to pending applications, several of which were already in the pipeline at the time.
Since then, two new license requests, including one that would have included a marijuana edibles kitchen, have been denied by the city’s license hearing official. Those decisions were upheld on appeal by City Council in early July.
One other new retail license decision is expected this week, and two additional applications that were already in process are pending formal hearings on Aug. 12 and Sept. 9.
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Organizers turned to the same strategy that marijuana activists used to decriminalize pot possession in 2005: “We’re talking about not putting people in jail.”