Basalt council vote could open more of Midland Avenue to pot shops | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council vote could open more of Midland Avenue to pot shops

The Basalt Town Council took the first step Tuesday night in loosening restrictions on where marijuana shops can be located in the town.

The council voted 5-1 in a first reading to reduce a buffer between parks and pot shops from 500 to 200 feet. A second reading and public hearing will be held later this winter.

The move potentially opens more of Midland Avenue, the town's main street, to pot shops. The 500-foot buffer restricted a portion of Midland Avenue because of the proximity to Lions Park, where the Town Hall and Art Base are located.

The town retained a buffer of 500 feet between child care facilities and marijuana shops and a 1,000-foot buffer from schools. The town also limits the number of licenses for retail marijuana shops to two and medical marijuana shops to two. Only one recreational shop currently exists in the town, in the South Side neighborhood near Big O Tires.

“I don’t think this is a game changer for Basalt’s downtown vitality.”

— Councilman Bernie Grauer

Norm Clasen, who owns the Three Bears Building downtown with his wife, Laura, championed the change to the buffer. The Clasens previously said they were negotiating the sale of their building to a Boulder businessman who wanted to open a recreational marijuana store. The businessman, Jack Pease, told the Aspen Daily News earlier this month that he was no longer interested in the purchase because it was taking the town government too long to reach a decision on the request to lower the buffer from parks. It wasn't discussed Tuesday night if the council's action would resurrect that deal.

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Clasen argued that Basalt's 500-foot buffer between parks and pot shops was more onerous than the restrictions set by any other government in the Roaring Fork Valley. Other governments require a 150- or 200-foot buffer. Snowmass Village doesn't allow pot shops because they go against the resort's family-friendly image.

Clasen told the council Tuesday that downtown Basalt is "hurting" and isn't a healthy economic environment year-round. He contended allowing pot shops would help restore vitality. The majority of downtown business operators signed a petition last year in support of changing the buffer.

Former Basalt businesswoman Candace Resnick spoke in favor of reducing the buffer. It won't affect children, she said, and it could help with the rejuvenation of downtown.

"It's breaking my heart that everything is going out to Willits," Resnick said.

The council was deadlocked 3-3 on the buffer reduction when it last considered the issue in October. This time, it approved the change with little debate.

Councilman Bernie Grauer was unapologetic about the council's lengthy review of the proposal. Reducing the buffer was controversial from the time it was first mentioned, he said, and some residents don't want to see pot shops on Midland Avenue.

"Our job is to listen to all voices in the community," Grauer said.

He questioned if the change will prime the pump for downtown Basalt, as Clasen and others claimed.

"I don't think this is a game changer for Basalt's downtown vitality," he said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt challenged the assertion that downtown Basalt is hurting. She claimed that 200 workers appeared almost overnight late last year with the opening of offices by Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County and Aspen Community Foundation.

"C'mon, we're cranking around here," Whitsitt said. The claim was slightly exaggerated. The businesses are combining to bring about 120 workers downtown, according to numbers they previously provided to The Aspen Times.

The change in the buffer was approved by Whitsitt, Grauer and Councilmen Auden Schendler, Mark Kittle and Gary Tennenbaum. It was opposed by Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer.

In other council action, the council decided it needed more information before a critical vote on the 156-residence Stott's Mill project. The council directed its staff to return Feb. 14 with more information on mitigating increased traffic from the project.

scondon@aspentimes.com