City Council will revote on pot shop move after forcing a member to recuse himself | SteamboatToday.com

City Council will revote on pot shop move after forcing a member to recuse himself

Council will revote on pot shop move after forcing a member to recuse himself

Scott Franz

Marijuana issues in Routt County

— Steamboat Springs City Council will reconsider its decision to stop a marijuana business from moving into Curve Plaza after council determined one of its members should not have voted against the move April 5 due to a potential conflict of interest.

Council will hold a fresh hearing May 17 and take a new vote on the proposed move of Natural Choice to Curve Plaza, after determining Councilman Tony Connell should recuse himself from the decision.

When the council initially considered the move, it was narrowly denied on a 4-3 vote.

But in recent weeks, Natural Choice has accused council of unfairly judging its request.

The operators of the marijuana business, who want to move to the more visible location between a liquor store and a restaurant, also revealed that Connell has had heated disagreements with their prospective landlord at the new location.

Connell recently tried to have some of the landlord's existing marijuana-growing tenants removed from a different office building where Connell works in west Steamboat.

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Connell denied he had a potential conflict of interest and felt he should be able to vote.

Four of his fellow council members disagreed.

Councilman Jason Lacy said, "from a trust standpoint, it might be better if (Connell) didn't participate."

"I think it probably looks a little bad," Lacy said about Connell's participation

Councilwoman Robin Crossan criticized Connell for not disclosing his previous disagreements with Steve Caragol, the landlord, before he voted against Natural Choice's move.

"We have to be so careful, and we have to dot our Is and cross our Ts, and, in this case, it wasn't done," Crossan said. "You did not give us this (potential conflict) up front. I believe you can be impartial, but you didn't tell us, and the community didn't know."

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer told Connell if there's ever a doubt about a potential conflict, it should be disclosed before any vote.

The council voted, 4-2, to not allow Connell to vote on the issue.

The owners of Natural Choice also felt Councilwoman Heather Sloop had a potential conflict of interest, because her husband, Peter Sloop, tried to have Caragol's tenants removed from the office complex where Sloop has his painting business.

Council disagreed and decided Heather Sloop has no conflict on the vote.

Earlier this month, council voted 4-3 to deny Natural Choice's move, because a majority of the council was not comfortable having the marijuana business so close to a hardware store and a family restaurant.

Sloop said she voted against the move due to the marijuana dispensary's potential proximity to Ace Hardware.

"If a family wants to bike to Ace Hardware, they're going to have to bike past this," Sloop said. "I don't want marijuana being sold next to Girl Scouts selling hot dogs at Ace."

Connell said he voted against the move, because he still wants to learn more about marijuana's impact on youth, and he didn't want to endorse a variance request that would have allowed a pot shop to operate fewer than 1,000 feet from a nearby park.

Council members who supported the move felt it met the city's codes and did not stray from a precedent the city set by allowing an existing marijuana business to operate on U.S. Highway 40 next to a restaurant.

New hearing scheduled

The applicants and opponents of the move will be able to present new evidence.

The operators of Natural Choice have accused the councilors who oppose their move of discrimination.

They claim a more strict set of standards are being applied to their business than are required of others.

At the new hearing, Natural Choice will have an opportunity to try to convince additional council members to support their move.

"We really welcome the opportunity to give a full-blown presentation," Natural Choice operations manager David Brodsky said. "We were really blindsided at the original hearing. Now, we want to get back to the issues and get back to the things City Council is supposed to be looking at."

Brodsky said he doesn't think that list of considerations should include how close the marijuana store is to a hardware store.

Tuesday marks the second time this year council has had to schedule a redo of a vote in light of a revelation that a member should not have voted on an issue due to an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Council in January forced Sloop to step down on the vote on whether to release a more detailed summary of the recent internal police department investigation, after it was revealed Sloop, before her "no" vote, did not disclose she had been taking flying lessons with former Deputy Police Chief Bob DelValle, one of the main subjects of the misconduct probe.

The new vote resulted in a more detailed summary of that investigation.

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