Steamboat moves to allow more pot shops
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Members of the Steamboat Springs City Council voiced some fatigue as they considered four ordinances to loosen the city’s marijuana regulations and allow more dispensaries in town during their Tuesday meeting.
“I think we’ve talked the pot thing to death,” Sonja Macys said, alluding to the council’s months-long discussions to treat rules around marijuana businesses more like liquor stores.
The most tangible progress from Tuesday was the final approval of an ordinance that will allow shops to open in more commercial areas around town, including parts of downtown and near Steamboat Resort.
Currently, city regulations limit a maximum of three dispensaries to a single commercial zone on the west end of Steamboat.
In Old Town, only the numbered side streets would be viable locations for pot shops. None could open along Lincoln Avenue.
The ordinance also will loosen zoning requirements for dispensaries by decreasing the buffer zones around schools and parks to 500 feet, as opposed to the current buffer of 1,000 feet.
The original ordinance, which narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote earlier this month, would have allowed dispensaries adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
Council member Scott Ford, who voted in favor of the original ordinance, had a change of heart and said he couldn’t support it this time around unless the city kept its ban on pot shops next to neighborhoods.
- Allows marijuana stores as a limited use
- Reduces the allowed area between dispensaries and schools and parks buffers from 1,000 to 500 feet. This distance would be measured using the radius of the school or park
- Allows dispensaries in commercial districts around Steamboat and in lots adjacent to areas zoned for residential properties
- Prohibits stores from opening along Lincoln Avenue but allows them in downtown’s numbered side streets
- Limits marijuana stores from being located within 1,500 feet of one another
- *Dispensaries may not open adjacent to residential neighborhoods
“In the spirit of collaboration and compromise I can live with that,” Macys said, with nods from fellow members in support of the ordinance.
By keeping the residential buffer, it passed on a 5-2 vote, with Kathy Meyer and Heather Sloop opposed. The new regulations will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
The other three ordinances were approved on first reading but will require final approval from the council at its June 4 meeting. All ordinances will take effect at the same time.
As approved, the ordinances would allow six dispensaries to operate in Steamboat, up from the current three-store limit. City Council would use a merit-based approach to determine who would receive one of the six marijuana business licenses. Those shops would have to source at least 50% of their flower — the buds of marijuana plants — from Routt County.
Shops would have to report quarterly to the city clerk’s office to ensure half of their flower is grown locally.
Under current rules, Steamboat’s three dispensaries must produce 70% of the products they sell in affiliated manufacturing and cultivation facilities, but those don’t have to be within Routt County.
This requirement, known as vertical integration, is unique among Colorado towns. Some at the meeting saw it as a form of economic protectionism.
“That we are the only municipality doing this shows that this is not the direction we should be going,” council member Lisel Petis said.
To address that concern, Macys proposed phasing out the vertical integration over a five-year period.
During public comment, David Brodsky, the former manager of a local dispensary, said phasing out the requirement was a moot point because any new pot shop would still have to invest in infrastructure to grow marijuana within county limits.
“Phasing out wouldn’t help anyone in any way,” he said. “The facilities would already be built.”
Despite his argument, the first reading of the vertical integration requirement with a five-year phase-out passed on a 4-3 vote. Heather Sloop, Robin Crossan and Kathi Meyer opposed it.
Those members also voted against the first reading of an ordinance that would increase the number of dispensaries in Steamboat to six, which also narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote.
As Sloop argued, she has not heard from residents wanting additional dispensaries in town and therefore doesn’t see a need for more.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me at all why we’re trying to fix something when no one is screaming at us that we need to fix it,” she said.
Macys took the opposite stance, favoring what she called an “open license” system, which would allow a potentially unlimited number of shops in the area. She shied from using the term, “unlimited,” worrying some residents may think City Council is turning the local marijuana industry into an uninhibited, Wild West maelstrom.
Considering all of the existing and new marijuana regulations, City Manager Gary Suiter said he does not anticipate an influx of prospective business owners applying for licenses, even with an open license system.
“It’s just not going to be a gold rush of people banging down the doors,” he said. “They’re going to have to jump through the hoops.”
As Petis pointed out, the city’s zoning regulations add strict limits on the number of new pot shops that could arrive, anyway. One regulation in particular prevents dispensaries from opening within 1,500 feet of each other.
“If you strategically placed them, you’re looking at five or six (pot shops),” she said.
Macys eventually supported the six-license limit, which City Council could expand in future years. That number could also change when council members vote to finalize the ordinance during their June 4 meeting.
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