Durango City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to change how mandatory buffer zones are measured for marijuana businesses – a change city planning staff opposes but was supported by the Durango Planning Commission.
Animas Herbal Wellness Center owner John Menzies advocated to change regulations while trying to relocate his business from 1111 Camino del Rio this spring. During his search, Menzies found buffers around schools limited options for businesses. He did find a location but later discovered it was too close to a school under the current regulation.
“There is no opportunity for a marijuana business to be found,” he said in a letter to the council, dated April 3.
Without intervention from Durango’s leadership, his business would be forced out of Durango and probably out of business, he wrote in his letter. City planners are working with Animas Herbal to find a new location,Assistant Community Development Director Nicol Killian said. There are still places where marijuana businesses are allowed to open within the guidelines of buffer zones: in Bodo Industrial Park, along Colorado Highway 3 and U.S. Highway 160 on the west side of town, Killian said
In response, Durango City Council asked the planning department in May to study and propose changes to the existing buffer regulations that could help marijuana businesses open in suitable locations.
The city uses “as the crow flies” measurements for buffers. But it will hold a public hearing Tuesday to consider changing to a direct pedestrian route, which is the route a pedestrian would take between two places instead of drawing a direct line on a map regardless of terrain. The measurement change would affect the existing 250-foot buffers around public playgrounds, and the 1,000-foot buffers around schools, overnight treatment centers and overnight child care centers. Businesses with liquor licenses abide by buffers measured by the most direct pedestrian route.
The Durango Planning Commission recommended the city adopt the most direct pedestrian route on a three-to-two vote in late June, going against planning staff recommendation. City staff members did not want to change buffer measurements because they are concerned that it would be difficult to map buffers and provide guidance to potential business owners, Killian said.
Verifying the pedestrian buffers would likely be time-consuming and increase the chance for error, she said.
“Our concern is really the logistics behind it all,” Killian said.
Planning Commissioners Peter Tregillus and Elsa Jagniecki voted against changing the buffer measurement.
Tregillus said he does not want to increase the density of marijuana shops because it could contribute to increased marijuana use among teens.
Commissioner Joe Lewandowski, who voted for the proposed change, said it is a fairness issue because marijuana businesses already are highly regulated.
Pat Senecal, with Celebrating Healthy Communities Coalition, opposes the change.
“Our youth need to have their environmental surroundings reflect priorities that keep them healthy,” she wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
Marijuana use among La Plata County teenagers has increased since recreational use was legalized in 2014, she said.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found marijuana use among students in sixth through 12th grades over a 30-day period increased by 11 percent when comparing the 2013-14 school year results wth 2015-16 school year results.