The next battle over where the city of Durango should allow retail marijuana stores may take place in the mixed-use neighborhoods.
The Durango Planning Commission unanimously approved Monday allowing marijuana establishments in mixed-use neighborhoods after one current medical marijuana dispensary protested the proposed ban in those neighborhoods by the Durango City Council last week. It was an amendment to the new land use development code.
Shawn Hauser, a Denver attorney representing the Acme Healing Center at 572 East Third Ave., which is in one of the city’s mixed-use neighborhoods, said the ban would put the business in competitive disadvantage. Also known as Durango Healing Center, it’s currently zoned medical and office. Councilors proposed the ban last week in response to residents’ protests, including from the Boulevard Neighborhood Association at the public hearing.
“What it does is effectively prevents one business, Durango Healing Center, from transitioning to retail licensure at its location while allowing the other existing businesses to do so,” Hauser said. She’s an attorney with Vicente Sederberg LLC law firm, which focuses on marijuana law.
All medical marijuana dispensaries in the city are expected to get first dibs July 1 at converting to retail or having both medical and retail businesses at one location. Anyone can apply for a license next year. Other medical marijuana businesses are being grandfathered in at existing locations and can convert to retail or have both medical and retail.
David Niccum, general manager of Acme, said he was concerned about a petition that was started to protest the business’ presence in the neighborhood as a retail outlet. Niccum said they have started their own petition, collecting about 50 signatures. He also has support letters from the towns of Crested Butte and Ridgway, where the company has other locations that sell medical and recreational pot.
“We did just move into this location (on East Third Avenue) in January with the anticipation of going retail,” Niccum said. “We did think we were OK until the last council meeting.”
City Planner Nicole Killian said many residents who attended the last public hearing were opponents of the recreational marijuana stores. The mixed-use neighborhood in question has the closest commercial area to residential housing and is embedded in downtown Durango.
“I think some people just didn’t want it in their neighborhood,” Killian said. “They wanted the mixed-use neighborhood to be a neighborhood serving commercial, not this type of use.”
Planning Commissioner Geoff Hickcox said he was concerned that the ban applied to all mixed-use neighborhoods when it seemed it was just this one location that residents were complaining about. He characterized the council’s move as “backtracking and justifying by doing it throughout the mixed-use.”
“I’m still concerned that it seems to be taking a really broad stroke in response to an isolated instance of opposition,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Lewandowski made the motion that approved the amendment with three changes. One was allowing retail in mixed-use neighborhoods, one was deleting the city’s language on hours to what the state law allows and the last change was to increase the variance in the distance between shops and parks from 10 percent to 50 percent. A variance lets the city approve a marijuana business closer than what the distance separation requirement in the code would allow.
State law allows retail pot shops to stay open until midnight. The City Council is proposing the shops close at 8 p.m., which is mandated for medical marijuana dispensaries.
The council is currently requiring a 250-foot separation between parks with playground equipment and pot shops, but can vary the distance by 10 percent with a variance.
The City Council takes up marijuana at its 6:30 p.m. meeting tonight.