Council to revote Tuesday on pot shop move | SteamboatToday.com

Council to revote Tuesday on pot shop move

Scott Franz

To attract more business, Natural Choice wants to sell its recreational and medical marijuana to adults in the Curve Plaza shopping center. The Steamboat Springs City Council voted, 4-3, last week to deny the move.

— Armed with a stack of photos, research, statistics and zoning maps, the operators of a local marijuana business on Tuesday will try to convince at least one more Steamboat Springs City Council member to let them move into a more visible spot between a restaurant and a liquor store.

The hearing on Natural Choice's proposal to move to Curve Plaza in west Steamboat is a do-over for council.

Whatever the council decides is poised to be controversial.

To move into the space, the business needs a variance to operate just shy of 1,000 feet as the crow flies from a nearby park.

The city's planning staff and planning commission have recommended the approval of the variance, because the walking and driving distances from the store location to the park are actually more than 3,000 feet.

The debate about the pot shop's move has gone far beyond this variance issue and has become a test for whether council will regulate marijuana businesses as they do liquor stores.

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Natural Choice operations manager David Brodsky said the business would "make a full blown case" on Tuesday that the move should be approved.

Public comment on the proposal has been mixed.

Some community members are urging council to follow the recommendations of its planning staff and commission and approve the move.

"Trust your staff," resident Liza Masters recently wrote to council. "They and Planning Commission vetted the pertinent issues and both came to the same conclusion, that this application is consistent with the (community development code) and should be approved.

"I urge you to stick to the applicable issues and treat this application like you would any other application, whether it is a marijuana dispensary or a beauty salon," Masters continued.

Others are saying the shopping center isn't the right place for a marijuana store.

The owners of the Ace Hardware store near the proposed location of the pot shop have publicly opposed the move.

Marc and Denny Swanson touted the family-friendly atmosphere of their store and the fact they donate hot dogs to local youth groups to sell at fundraisers at Ace.

"The prospect of having a pot shop so close to all this activity concerns us," the owners wrote in a letter.

Council members Heather Sloop and Tony Connell also focused on the social issues of marijuana in expressing their opposition to the move, while councilman Scott Ford said he wanted the city to continue its "slow-go" approach to regulating the industry.

Sloop has said she doesn't want marijuana sold so close to a hardware store where Girl Scouts sell hot dogs.

On April 5, council voted 4-3 to deny the pot shop's move.

But council eventually ordered a new hearing after it determined councilman Connell should not have voted against the pot shop's move the first time because of a conflict of interest he did not disclose.

Connell last year tried unsuccessfully to remove pot-growing tenants from his office complex in west Steamboat. The marijuana growers also happen to be tenants of the landlord who is trying to lease the space at Curve Plaza to Natural Choice.

Connell said he was aware Steve Caragol, the landlord, was trying to lease space to Natural Choice.

A majority of Connell's fellow council members thought his previous disagreements with the landlord constituted a conflict of interest and forced him to recuse himself from the upcoming vote.

Council President Walter Magill said Friday that, because he is expecting several public comments on the move Tuesday, he plans to move the item up in the agenda, so it is heard earlier in the evening.

The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in Citizens Hall.

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