Downtown businesses, church parishioners on opposite sides of Basalt marijuana issue
October 13, 2016
RIFFLE RECUSES HERSELF
Basalt Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle recused herself from the discussion of marijuana regulations Tuesday after a flap arose recently about an email she sent to other board members.
Riffle lobbied three other council members in a July 11 email to keep the town’s marijuana regulations the same. The email violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law. It was exposed through a Colorado Open Records Act request by Carbondale resident David Schoenberger.
Riffle recused herself Tuesday evening without speaking on the issue. “I wanted to take the heat off the council and it seemed like it was in the best interests of the town,” she said Wednesday.
Riffle earlier said she was unclear about open meetings requirements as a new council member. She was elected in April. She said she had requested a session for new council members from former Town Manager Mike Scanlon, but a session was never held.
Basalt resident Ted Guy told The Aspen Times Tuesday that an email he unearthed in an open records request contradicts Riffle’s statement. The email, produced by Guy, shows that Scanlon sent an email to all council members May 26 warning them against a certain response to a town resident who emailed them all on an issue.
“I want to make you all aware that responding by selecting Reply To All creates a conversation involving 3 or more Town Councilmembers on a subject that will be before you for consideration,” Scanlon wrote to all seven council members. “This then becomes a violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law.”
Scanlon advised them to reply individually to the citizen’s email, if they desired.
Riffle said Wednesday she still has questions about when an email exchange is allowed and barred between council members. She is seeking additional guidance from Interim Town Manager Ron Miller.
Downtown business owners and operators in Basalt are squaring off against members of the Catholic parish in a dispute over pot shops on the town's main street.
Representatives of 23 downtown businesses or properties support a request by Norm and Laura Clasen for the town to reduce the buffer between dispensary locations and parks.
Parishioners at St. Vincent Catholic Church, just down the street, caught wind of the request and members wrote to object to the proposed change to the buffer.
The Clasens want to sell their Three Bears Building on Midland Avenue to a buyer who wants to open a dispensary, Norm Clasen told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday. But the town's existing 500-foot buffer between parks and dispensaries prohibits the sale of marijuana at the Clasens' property at 174 Midland Ave.
The Clasens are asking the council to reduce the buffer between parks and pot shops.
Clasen said Basalt should set a buffer closer to those used by other towns in the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen's buffer is 150 feet between parks and dispensaries, he said, while Glenwood Springs and Carbondale set a 200-foot buffer.
He claimed allowing the "beautifully designed, clean, well-run and successful" dispensary contemplated by Jack Pease of Boulder would improve Basalt's business climate.
"It will bring more people in the winter months when Basalt closes down to a crawl that is hurting the downtown business community tremendously," Clasen read from a prepared statement.
Supporters sign letter
The downtown supporters signed a form letter that emphasized many of the points made by Clasen. "Liquor stores have a zero set back or buffer from a public park," the letter said, among many points. "Marijuana and alcohol are both legal in the state of Colorado. To disallow one in downtown is to discriminate."
The form letter contended that alcohol and prescription drugs "are far more dangerous to the user and society than marijuana." (sic)
The sale of the building at the contracted price, which wasn't listed, "will go a long way to increasing property values in Basalt that have been depressed and stagnant since the downturn of 2008," the letter said. And the business "will be one of the largest tax revenue producers in the downtown core of Basalt."
"As a Basalt business owner or resident, I support changing whatever is necessary to allow this use of the Three Bears Building," the form letter concluded.
The proposed buffer reduction was supported by a diverse mix of downtown interests, from Toklat Gallery to Two Rivers Cafe, and a firearms dealer to CCY Architects.
Church worried about youth
St. Vincent Catholic Church, located at 250 Midland Ave., regularly hosts kids for after-school activities throughout the week, parishioners said. Several parishioners suggested that the buffer from parks isn't the only issue. Basalt also has a buffer prohibiting dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools.
Parishioners said they are concerned about the message that would be sent by having a pot shop near the church and its classes.
Adrianna Cabrera de Torres, the youth leader at St. Vincent, said it would be a "bad influence" for the youth attending the church and its classes to have a marijuana shop so close.
Judy Hagler wrote about broad-ranging objections to a pot shop in downtown. She asked if the business would attract the type of people Basalt wants.
"I highly doubt putting a business like this downtown will attract the kind of customer that Basalt would like to have," she wrote. "Unless you want a bad reputation, I strongly suggest you find another location outside the city limits. This is just a bad idea."
John and Ann Spencer suggested in their letter that the town should allow the pot shop to operate at Willits, where all the shoppers go.
Fifteen members of the church wrote letters to the Town Council asking that the buffer be maintained at 500 feet.
Council review on Tuesday
The council had previously passed an ordinance on the first of two required readings to change zoning to allow dispensaries to open in more areas of Basalt. However, the board didn't fiddle with the buffers or even discuss the possibility.
The change of the buffer can be made on second reading. The council is scheduled to resume discussion of the issue Tuesday.
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