In recent weeks, multiple petitions filed by neighborhood groups looked poised to derail the passage of four distinct but entangled local ordinances aiming to regulate marijuana and vacation rentals in parts of downtown Durango.
But in a victory for the neighborhood groups and city councilors, Durango City Council was able to partially salvage the omnibus of ordinances Tuesday night, passing two of the four proposed laws and finally opening the gates to retail marijuana and vacation rentals in several downtown zoning districts.
The council passed one ordinance allowing vacation rentals in three downtown districts, reducing the number of vacation rentals allowed under the old code. In a clear concession to the neighborhood groups, council capped vacation rentals in two downtown residential zones at 3 percent of homes in each of the neighborhoods – down from the 5 percent cap the city originally sought.
The 3 percent cap will apply to Established Neighborhood zones 1 and 2, which City Manager Ron LeBlanc said basically comprises the downtown boulevard (East Third Avenue), the area a little further north on the west side of Main Avenue, and West Second and West Third avenues north of downtown.
The city also adopted an ordinance authorizing – and regulating – the sale of retail marijuana within city limits at Tuesday’s meeting.
This ordinance means people interested in getting into the retail marijuana game soon can start applying for planning permissions.
The council also repealed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana in mixed-used zones – basically the College Drive Corridor, the area around the Ptarmigan Center at Florida and East Animas roads and another area west of Main Avenue – that had upset various neighborhood groups.
Nick Anesi, one of the lawyers representing the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, said petitioning the ordinance was the only option open to the group. He said the association neither harbors any philosophical objections to medical marijuana nor wishes to undermine the city’s Local Licensing Authority in regulating medical-marijuana businesses.
But he said the neighborhood group had problems with small sections of the medical marijuana ordinance. Anesi said a smattering of sentences are worded so that their meaning is ambiguous, creating wiggle room for pot entrepreneurs to later argue their medical-marijuana licenses entitle them to expand into retail marijuana sales in downtown residential neighborhoods.
“We’re not against retail or medical marijuana. We’re just against it happening in neighborhoods through a legal backdoor,” he said.
Anesi said the solution is simple: The city would have to rework the language in only a few sentences to definitely close the loophole.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc said he didn’t dispute Anesi’s legal analysis.
He said he expects City Attorney Dirk Nelson will come to an agreement about the language of the medical-marijuana ordinance shortly, perhaps as early as Tuesday, and hopes the city will reach final resolution on this ordinance by its Aug. 19 meeting.
LeBlanc said for now, the “ordinance is suspended, so even though council acted on retail marijuana, they were pretty much addressing zoning for mixed-use neighborhoods, which will allow the retail marijuana people to move forward on the planning process,” he said.
“Until the Local Licensing Authority ordinance is passed, they can’t start the licensing process. But the planning process takes some time, so hopefully we’ll resolve the Licensing Authority ordinance, and the Licensing Authority will come back into power in the next two weeks, and no one will be delayed,” he said.
Anesi said the Boulevard Neighborhood Association will drop its petition to other ordinances regarding retail marijuana and downtown vacation rentals.