Silverton voters opened the town to marijuana businesses and off-highway vehicles in Tuesday’s election, putting to rest a couple of the most divisive issues facing the town in recent years.
By a vote of 243-179 (58 percent to 42 percent), the town’s voters agreed to allow all-terrain vehicles and unlicensed dirt bikes access to downtown via designated routes.
ATV use in the backcountry of the high San Juans has grown in popularity in recent years, and backers of the measure hope it will spur the town’s anemic economy.
The measure was supported by the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce board but was opposed by some who feared it would detract from the town’s historic character.
Unlicensed off-highway vehicles are prohibited on streets and roads in Colorado unless towns and counties specifically allow them.
The town’s regulations stipulate that the vehicles must be insured and that operators need to have valid driver’s licenses.
Patricia McKay, who opposes allowing OHVs on town streets and sponsored a competing ballot measure that failed, said she still has concerns.
“I sincerely hope that this change works for our community,” McKay said, “but my concerns about quality of life for locals and visitors and the safety of mixing OHVs with summer traffic are shared by many.”
Larry Gallegos, who operates an ATV rental service, San Juan Backcountry, and who also was elected to the Town Council on Tuesday, said allowing limited ATV access into town will help his business operationally.
He rode past Town Hall in an ATV on Wednesday with his wife. Pointing to his Can-Am Commander, he said it doesn’t come cheap. And the town cannot afford to turn away those visitors.
“If we have someone with a $26,000 toy, I want him in town,” Gallegos said.
Town Administrator and Acting Clerk Brian Carlson said the Town Council will need to pass an ordinance to comply with the voter initiative. That may be on the council’s agenda April 14.
Meanwhile, a ballot measure to repeal a town ordinance allowing marijuana-related businesses went down in flames, but only by five votes.
Last year, the Town Council adopted an ordinance allowing recreational marijuana-related businesses as a “use subject to review” by the council, as long as the businesses are at least 500 feet from Silverton School and the preschool and in a business or economic-development zoned area of town.
That triggered a citizen petition drive to put the matter before voters, and the verdict came in Tuesday with a 205-212 (49.4 percent to 50.6 percent) vote against repealing the ordinance.
Marijuana-related businesses – including retail shops and grow facilities – may now apply for business licenses within the town.
Silverton resident Mary Edith Eggett, who led the drive to repeal the marijuana ordinance, said Wednesday that “our town remains divided on this issue.”
She expressed hope that the Town Council will at least revisit the setbacks from the school and preschool and other places where children routinely gather.
“We hope our Town Council will abide by the federal 1,000-foot limit, keeping marijuana sales away from where our children congregate,” Eggett said.
In separate ballot measures, Silverton voters approved a 1 percent sales tax on marijuana products and a 3 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana production.
But marijuana entrepreneurs have not exactly been beating down the door to enter the Silverton market.
“So far, I’ve gotten only one actual inquiry in writing that I just received today following dissemination of election results,” Carlson said. He said he was contacted some time ago by another operator but has not heard from him since.
San Juan County, too, allows marijuana-related businesses but has not gotten any applicants either.