Council reverses decision and votes in favor of pot shop move | SteamboatToday.com

Council reverses decision and votes in favor of pot shop move

Majority votes in favor of marijuana business move

Natural Choice owners Roland and Mia French began sales of marijuana for recreational use in 2014.

— Curve Plaza is about to get a little greener.

Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday reversed its previous decision and voted 4-2 to allow a local marijuana business to move into a more visible location in the west Steamboat shopping center.

“We’re extremely excited,” Natural Choice owner Roland French said. “We’re really proud of the community.”

Operations manager David Brodsky said the store welcomed the opportunity to prove to the community it can be a responsible business.

The store will try to open in about two months.

“Good luck. Keep it green,” Council President Walter Magill told the business owners after they prevailed in a hearing that lasted more than an hour.

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The owners of the business entered Tuesday’s meeting facing a mix of opposition and support from the community.

Natural Choice’s proposal became controversial because the business was seeking a variance to allow it to set up shop just shy of 1,000 feet from a park.

Some council members and residents also injected moral arguments into the debate, saying they did not want children who stage fundraisers at nearby Ace Hardware so close to a shop where pot is sold.

A previous 4-3 council vote denying the move was overturned after it was determined Councilman Tony Connell should not have voted on the proposal due to an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Connell was forced to recuse himself from the new hearing and vote.

It was Magill who switched his vote Tuesday and endorsed the move.

He said no single facet of the debate changed his mind, but added some additional research he did about retail marijuana businesses in recent weeks pushed him in favor of the proposal.

Magill specifically mentioned noticing that people who shop at retail marijuana stores do so in the same way they shop in liquor stores, and there is less advertising at the pot shops.

“They go in, and they turn around and leave,” Magill said. “People may not like this location, but it does fit in with the liquor store next door.”

Magill also predicted that, in the next five years, local marijuana businesses will find a way to open up shops on U.S. Highway 40 that are more visible than the space Natural Choice will move into.

The other council members who supported the move felt it was reasonable to allow the store to operate just shy of 1,000 feet from a park, because walking and driving distances to the store will be much greater.

They also felt the business fit into the retail area.

Councilwoman Robin Crossan urged council to weigh the proposal just as it would any other business.

“If this was a liquor store, we would not be having this conversation,” Crossan said before she voted to approve the move. “If this was for any other business in this community, we would not be having this conversation. You have to set aside what your (personal) thoughts about the business are, and focus on the facts.”

Council members Scott Ford and Heather Sloop voted against the move.

They feared the precedent council would set if it allowed a marijuana store to operate within 1,000 feet of a park, even if it was impossible for someone to walk in a straight 1,000 foot line to get to the park.

Other council members countered it was impossible to reach nearby Bear River Park in 1,000 feet or less, because a jail with barbed wire prevents anyone from making that direct walk.

Police Chief Cory Christensen told council he was not concerned about the move from a law enforcement perspective.

“Generally, these facilities do not create additional crime,” he said. “They do not add or subtract from crime in the area.”

Natural Choice will be located between Arctic Liquor and Lil’ House Country Biscuits and Coffee.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10