City Council halts pot shop’s move to more visible location
April 5, 2016
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Council will not allow a pot shop to move into a more visible location between a restaurant and a liquor store in a shopping center on the west side of the city.
A slim majority of the council wasn’t comfortable allowing Natural Choice to sell marijuana so close to a family restaurant and next to a hardware store.
In denying the move, the council rejected the recommendations of both city planning staff and the Planning Commission to allow Natural Choice to move into a location the business felt is more visible than its current spot, which is tucked away in an industrial center.
The 4-3 vote to deny the move also sent a larger message that a majority of the council thinks marijuana businesses here should not yet be regulated in the same way as liquor stores.
Before voting against the move, Councilman Scott Ford said he was fine with continuing a "slow go" approach to regulating the local marijuana industry.
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"As this is evolving in our community, you had some other communities say ‘no’ (to marijuana shops) and others say ‘anything goes.’ We fall somewhere in the middle," Ford said, noting the local alcohol industry has had 81 years to evolve, while the marijuana industry is still in its infancy. "We don’t want to create a situation where we get ahead of ourselves."
Some council members were uncomfortable with the potential presence of marijuana stores in public shopping plazas in the city.
"If a family wants to bike to Ace Hardware, they’re going to have to bike past this," Councilwoman Heather Sloop said of the proposed pot shop location. "I don’t want marijuana being sold next to Girl Scouts selling hot dogs at Ace."
Council President Walter Magill questioned whether the pot shop would fit into the "culture" of the shopping center.
"A lot of these teens and guests (eating and shopping at Curve Plaza) are from conservative places, and they’ll try to avoid this situation," Magill said. "It could be impacting other businesses."
Councilman Tony Connell wanted to table the vote until the council could better understand several issues, including how the introduction of marijuana stores in Steamboat was affecting underage use of the drug.
He said administrators at Steamboat Springs High School have told him they have an issue with underage use of marijuana.
"In every case (of underage marijuana possession), the (assistant) principal said it’s branded marijuana from one of our three companies," Connell said.
Some council members also raised the issue of the new location’s proximity to Bear River Park in west Steamboat.
Though the store would have been just shy of 1,000 feet from the park, as the crow flies, city staff and the Planning Commission felt the move wouldn’t have violated the city’s 1,000-foot buffer rule, because the walking and driving distances to the park are actually more than 3,000 feet.
Some council members disagreed with this assessment, saying the city needs to firm up how the park buffer rule is measured.
Magill, Ford, Connell and Sloop opposed the pot shop’s move.
Councilman Jason Lacy supported the pot shop’s move, along with councilwomen Kathi Meyer and Robin Crossan.
Lacy noted the location was next door to an existing liquor store, and many families already have to drive past an existing marijuana store that fronts U.S. Highway 40 on the way to Ace and Curve Plaza.
He also noted the city had not received any formal complaints from the nearby businesses.
"I feel like this can be a workable situation," Lacy said.
Crossan said it wasn’t right for the council to treat one type of business differently than others.
She also noted that the one existing pot shop on U.S. Highway 40 shares a wall with Taco Cabo, a family restaurant.
And Meyer said the community and the state had spoken when voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana use by adults in the state and allowed the industry to be regulated the same way alcohol is.
Roland French, owner of Natural Choice, said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.
He said he felt a majority of residents in Steamboat wanted the marijuana businesses to be treated the same way as liquor stores.
"Steamboat Springs overwhelmingly supported" Amendment 64, French said.
Rex Brice, who owns Lil’ House Country Biscuits & Coffee, next door to the proposed pot shop location, told Steamboat Today after the meeting he was not opposed to having a marijuana business next door, but he did have some concerns about the prospect.
He said while he thought having Natural Choice as a next door neighbor could benefit his breakfast spot, he thought it could negatively impact Big House Burgers, his other restaurant at the shopping center.
"I think there are certainly some concerns in the community about how the marijuana industry here grows," he said. "This council had a tough decision to make."