Basalt council eases pot shops restrictions but keeps them off Midland Avenue | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council eases pot shops restrictions but keeps them off Midland Avenue

Jennifer Riffle

The Basalt Town Council voted Tuesday night to ease restrictions on where marijuana shops can open but kept buffers intact to keep pot shops off the main drag.

The council — down to four members because of vacations and illness — voted unanimously to allow medical and recreational marijuana businesses to open in commercial zones, technically labeled C-2 and C-3. Current regulations only allow pot shops in areas zoned industrial.

The vote was the first of two required to change the rules. The second vote was scheduled for Sept. 27.

Opening up more zone districts will allow potential shop operators to look at more places in town. For example, a portion of the commercial center off Basalt Center Circle will be eligible for pot shops. Large portions of Orchard Plaza, where City Market is located, and Willits Town Center also will be eligible, if desired, by making changes to their land-use approvals.

“If we change a lot of regulations now, we’re going to get the Genie out of the bottle.”

— Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle

The Basalt Industrial Park, where Valley Lumber is located, already had significant space eligible for pot shops.

The core issue was whether Midland Avenue would be opened for business. Longtime Basalt resident Stephanie Scavullo attended the meeting to urge the council to keep pot shops off Midland Avenue. The town's main corridor should remain off-limits, she said, in large part because of exposure to kids.

Scavullo said she doesn't necessarily have a problem with pot shops, as long as they are in appropriate places.

"As far as it being on Main Street, I think it would detract from Basalt and the values of Basalt," she said.

Basalt resident Marge MacDonald agreed. She said the Roaring Fork Valley has plenty of places for consumers to buy marijuana products without easing restrictions on Midland Avenue.

Two men with special interests also weighed in during the public hearing. Norm Clasen said a building that he and his wife, Laura, own on Midland Avenue is being examined for a potential purchase by someone looking into a marijuana establishment. Clasen said he isn't a marijuana user, but his views on use have changed since he investigated it. Medical marijuana uses are "extraordinary," he said, and recreational use will happen regardless of regulation. He urged the council to treat pot shop licenses the same as liquor licenses.

"You know, it's just going to be part of our culture," Clasen said. "It's going to be more of our culture as time goes on."

Opening Midland Avenue to marijuana shops "will bring a certain vitality to our town," he added.

On the flip side, Roots RX co-owner Robert Holmes urged the board to keep the existing restrictions on pot shops. While it's tough to find eligible locations, it can be done, he said.

Holmes noted recreational pot sales are relatively new in Colorado and the state is just one of three that allow sales for recreational use. Regulation is the key to the industry maturing in a responsible way, he indicated.

"This is a business that needs regulation," Holmes said.

Despite more lenient zoning, buffers continue to place major restrictions on where shops can open in Basalt. Current rules prevent pot facilities from opening within 1,000 feet of a school, 500 feet of a day care and 500 feet from "major" parks. The measurement is based on direct pedestrian access rather than "as the crow flies." That means they are more restrictive.

While the council was willing to allow pot shops in more zone districts, there was no consideration to easing the buffers.

"If we change a lot of regulations now we're going to get the Genie out of the bottle," Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said. And getting the Genie back in would be difficult, she added.

The rest of the council didn't require convincing. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilmen Mark Kittle and Gary Tennenbaum voted with Riffle to expand the zoning where pot shops are allowed, but they didn't mess with the buffers. Midland Avenue remains off limits for pot shops.

scondon@aspentimes.com