Carbondale wrestles with zoning for medical marijuana grow sites

John StroudGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – A confidential special review committee should be formed to consider where commercial-scale medical marijuana grows can be located and how they should operate, said one Carbondale town trustee.”If we have multiple sites, each one is going to be different,” Trustee John Foulkrod said during continued discussion Tuesday night about various zoning amendments intended to regulate medical marijuana facilities in Carbondale.”That would allow all of the issues to be discussed, and allow the process to be confidential,” Foulkrod said.He suggested a committee made up of key town staff, including the police chief and building official, and maybe one or two elected trustees.When a specially appointed Medical Marijuana Facilities Advisory Group began meeting earlier this year, Town Manager Tom Baker said the assumption was that any growing operations would be subject to some higher level of review.However, when the state approved its medical marijuana regulations earlier this summer, it required that the location of growing operations be kept confidential for security reasons. The advisory group identified the town’s industrial zone district as the most suitable location for commercial grows.”Staff is suggesting that the town evaluate the impacts of commercial grows before we open the entire zone district to this use,” Baker wrote in a memo for Tuesday night’s meeting. “The town attorney recommends a limited public process that still meets state confidentiality requirements.”Carbondale is already home to one medical marijuana growing operation, in addition to 12 medical marijuana dispensing centers.The town is considering amendments to its zoning ordinance that would address such things as where such facilities can be located, how far they should be from schools and other issues. Once the ordinance is in draft form, it will be referred to the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission for a formal public hearing and recommendation back to the Board of Trustees. A hearing will also take place before the trustees at that time.”I do have a fear that, if grows are prohibited in Carbondale and Garfield County, that people are going to go back to residential grows and the black market,” said Tyler Tucker, owner of the Sovereign Salud dispensary in Carbondale.Garfield County voters will decide in November whether to ban medical marijuana facilities, including grow operations, in unincorporated parts of the county.”By regulating this type of use, it allows the municipalities to have more control,” he said.Trustee Frosty Merriott suggested that grow operations obtain at least 30 percent of their energy needs, if not more, from renewable sources.”I’m asking the same for other commercial users, and it should apply to these facilities as well,” he said.Merriott also asked for a “voluntary” commitment from medical marijuana centers to tone down their advertising, including that the word “medical” be used in all signage and advertising, and that no one under the age of 18 be allowed inside.While the town can control on-site signage for such facilities, it cannot dictate how such businesses advertise through other means.A majority of the town board agreed that a 500-foot separation between medical marijuana facilities and schools is adequate, which is the same requirement for liquor stores.However, some existing facilities are within that limit already and would likely be grand-fathered in as a pre-existing, non-conforming use. Whether that would change if a facility changes ownership or makes some modification of the premises is still open to debate.One citizen who commented at the Tuesday night meeting asked if Carbondale citizens would have a chance to vote on the issues related to medical marijuana.”This is uncharted territory, and we need to carefully consider how it will affect our community,” Pete Wiley said. “Five, 10 years down the road we don’t want to look back and wish we’d done it differently.”The state has given municipalities until July 1, 2011, to create any local ordinances related to medical marijuana. Carbondale trustees continued their discussion to Sept.