No relief for West Colorado Ave. in new MMJ zoning
City Council vote ignores OWN survey results

       To resounding applause from a packed house of medical marijuana (MMJ) business owners and supporters, City Council approved land use regulations for MMJ facilities at its meeting Dec. 14.
       Overruling a more restrictive Planning Commission recommendation that called for MMJ dispensaries to have 1,000-foot standoffs from certain types of socially sensitive locations, council's unanimous vote sets that number at 400 feet and designates fewer such locations.
       For the Westside, the ordinance legitimizes a situation in the mixed-use C-5 zone along West Colorado Avenue, where numerous marijuana retail “centers” (known as dispensaries) have opened in the past year next door to homes or across the alleys from the residential zones (in which dispensaries are not allowed) in the areas of Cucharras or Pikes Peak Avenue.
       In addition, the council action gives MMJ business owners the right to grow marijuana in C-5 zones. Although it's not likely because of the region's climate, Steve Tuck of City Land Use said there is no restriction on pot being grown outdoors, such as in the back yards of the dispensaries along Colorado Avenue.
       Council members did not discuss the results of a 17-question survey on MMJ issues that had been conducted by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and provided to them last week. The results had shown strong support by Westsiders for mitigating potential MMJ impacts on neighborhoods via standoffs, variances and other types of review processes.
       Sean Paige, the city councilmember whose district includes West Colorado and the older Westside, said after the meeting that “my failure to mention the OWN survey doesn't mean I didn't take it into account.” However, he elaborated, he was concerned about adding to “the city's hopelessly confusing jumble of zoning designations” when the MMJ businesses “are not a demonstrated menace to public safety and they seem for the most part to be reasonably coexisting where they are.”
       OWN President Welling Clark said he was “surprised” that he had not received a response before the meeting from any council member regarding the survey. However, before offering an opinion on the council vote, he said, “I want to review the written documentation and understand the implications of what this ordinance means to mixed-use neighborhoods so I can bring that to the OWN board for determination.”

An Edwardian-style residence at 1604 W. Colorado Ave. (left) is currently situated next to a medical marijuana dispensary at 1602. The latter site previously housed a liquor store. Under city zoning laws, the liquor store did not need a variance to be next door to a residence, nor does the dispensary. Based on its reading of the city Zoning Code, the Westside Pioneer had reported Dec. 9 that a 200-foot standoff is required between liquor stores and homes. But the city interpretation is that it applies to taverns only.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The OWN board has previously called for a standoff of 500 feet between dispensaries and residences.
       The new land-use regulations won't be enforced for several months, Tuck said after the meeting. The plan, he said, is to wait until council passes another ordinance that would establish a companion set of business regulations for MMJ facilities, and that can't take place until the state finishes with its regulations/guidelines (March 1 is the expected date).
       In its 1,000-foot recommendation, Planning Commission had sought to include preschools and colleges on a list of locations having that standoff distance. Council's decision of 400 feet deletes those two educational varieties from the list but keeps public schools and centers that rehabilitate youths or adult drug/alcohol abusers.
       Council's action pleased the MMJ industry in part because it was largely consistent with the preapplication form businesses had submitted to the city last summer that allowed them to open or keep running centers, manufacturing operations or grow facilities. The form had asked applicants to ensure that their dispensary locations would be 400 feet from schools or the two types of centers.
       The council action also liberalized Planning Commission's proposals by adding the allowance to grow pot as a permitted use in C-5, C-6 and Planned Business Community zones, deleting PlaCo's limit on percent of floor space allowed for cultivation when such an operation is co-located with a dispensary.
       Council also agreed to let dispensaries now operating in office zones - illegal in the new regulations - be “grandfathered,” although only at sites where specific businesses have them now.
       Tuck did not have a ready number for how many dispensaries would be illegal under the new ordinance, but he didn't think it was very many and in any case they could seek a variance in the months before the law starts being enforced, he said.
       If Planning Commis-sion's recommended standoff rules had been approved, it is estimated some 60 dispensaries would have been in violation - a concern expressed by many of the nearly 30 speakers who addressed council.
       Councilmember Jan Martin drew especially loud applause when, shortly before the vote, she spoke to the crowd, “Tonight you're about to get a very business-friendly environment to work in.”
       Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council president Tanya Garduno, one of nearly 30 pro-industry speakers at the meeting, told council that although there may have been some citizen concern about the high number of dispensaries at one time (more than 170 filed preapplications), many have gone out of business. “We might end up with 60 to 80,” she said.
       Paige, who had joined City Councilmember Tom Gallagher on a task force with industry people to hash out standards during the past year, said at the meeting that pinning down land use regulations had been a “tough issue, because all of us as parents want what's best for our kids. Nobody wants to send the wrong signals about illicit drugs.” However, he went on to say that he believed the real issue was respecting people's rights. “What happens to us as a society if we start to pick and choose our rights based on our subjective decisions?” he asked.
       A speaker favoring the Planning Commission recommendation was Brian Burnette, vice chancellor of administration and finance for UCCS, representing both UCCS and Colorado College He asked (in vain) that council implement a 1,000-foot distance for colleges.
       “We work with thousands of young adults on making good, healthy lifestyle choices,” he said. “Having them [dispensaries] near our campuses is not helpful to our efforts.” He added that in the last three years, there has been a “five-fold increase” in marijuana citations on the campus.
       Council did not directly discuss the college standoff issue, but members expressed a general wish for simplified regulations, which Tuck and fellow planner Larry Larsen sought to accommodate. “The more complicated we make these land uses, the more difficult it becomes to enforce,” Tuck told council at one point, adding that such a situation would become “a burden on staff.”
       Asked why he and Larsen had not recommended any standoffs for residences - especially in view of the mixed-use issue on West Colorado, Tuck replied in an e- mail: “Spacing from residential uses was not included in the state statute; therefore to remain consistent with the statute no land uses were proposed which were not included in the statute. There was little testimony at Planning Commission (I think I recall one person who raised the issue) and no one testified at City Council regarding this issue.”
       Tuck also corrected an interpretation by both OWN and the Westside Pioneer of the city zoning code pertaining to liquor stores. Although the code refers to “liquor establishments” and requires that they have a 200-foot standoff from residences, that specific reference includes “on premises” in front of “liquor establishments,” which means that the reference is not to liquor stores but to taverns. Liquor stores themselves have no standoffs, Tuck said.

Westside Pioneer article