Basalt council approves marijuana sales downtown, but buffer in limbo
October 19, 2016
The Basalt Town Council will resume formal discussions in November to determine whether to reduce a 500-foot buffer between parks and marijuana dispensaries on Midland Avenue.
The council deadlocked 3-3 Tuesday on the first reading of an ordinance that would have reduced the buffer to 200 feet. The tie could have effectively killed the ordinance. But the council, upon further reflection on the consequences of denying the ordinance at first reading, voted again, 5-1 in favor this time, to bring the matter to a public hearing Nov. 25. Councilman Auden Schendler voted against it after previously voting in its favor because he contented that dragging out the discussion was "bad governance."
While relaxing the buffer is still up for discussion, the council voted 5-1 in approval of allowing marijuana dispensaries in the downtown district. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer cast the dissenting vote.
Recreational and medical pot sales currently are allowed in the town's industrial district and in areas within health care facilities.
But shops have been banned on Midland Avenue, the heart of old town Basalt. In order for a shop to open on Midland Avenue, however, the 500-foot buffer zone would have to be reduced because of the nearby Lions Park.
Discussion of the reduced buffer has been spurred by Norm and Laura Clasen, owners of the Three Bears Building on Midland Avenue. The couple are trying to sell the building to Jack Pease, who owns a dispensary in Boulder. Pease would run a shop on the building's ground-level floor, Norm Clasen told the council.
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"I'm asking you to reduce the distance of public parks to comply with other towns," he told members of the council, noting the current buffer is not consistent with the rules of other municipalities in the Roaring Fork Valley. The city of Aspen's buffer is 150 feet between pot shops and parks, while Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have a 200-foot rule.
Most residents spoke in favor of relaxing the buffer for downtown. They made the common arguments that marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol, but booze is served and sold downtown. Some also argued a cannabis shop would buoy other downtown business while keeping customers in Basalt instead of them driving elsewhere to purchase pot. Two residents, however, said there could be unintended consequences that would come with a downtown shop, from tarnishing Basalt's character to setting a bad example for children.
Parishioners at St. Vincent Catholic Church, located on Midland Avenue, also came out against a shop opening on the street, while representatives of 23 downtown business have spoken in favor of a dispensary.
Basalt Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle recused herself from voting on both issues because of a July 11 email she sent to fellow council members asking them to keep the town's existing pot laws intact. The email violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law; Riffle has said she was unaware of the breach at the time and it was an honest mistake.