Pot progression: Snowmass council agrees on town rules, banning sales in Base Village | AspenTimes.com

Pot progression: Snowmass council agrees on town rules, banning sales in Base Village

Containers of pot at a dispensary in Aspen.

What the not-so-distant future of pot shops in Snowmass Village will look like became as clear as ever following a painstaking game of negotiating between members of Town Council.

From the amount of distance that should separate a dispensary and the Skittles route to whether a skier should be able to eye signage from the lift, the council at its meeting Monday analyzed and deliberated on a myriad of particulars but ultimately reached consensus on how the town will regulate marijuana sales within nearly every corner of the village.

First, council consented posing a minimum 300-foot-walking distance between any two dispensaries within the village.

This specific parameter is most applicable to two of the town's primary commercial nodes, the Snowmass mall and center, as council majority agreed to prohibit the sale of retail marijuana in all of Base Village.

The development, which will be the largest commercial area in Snowmass Village, is expected to reach substantial completion next month. A grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 15.

After much debate, council decided to ban Base Village for a few reasons, one of which was that the amount of overlapping restrictions posed begged the question from a few council members as to where a shop would be permissible.

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A staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana in Snowmass, Mayor Markey Butler advocated for enforcing stricter regulations now that can be softened later, if need be. Butler used Base Village as an example, with many unknowns as well as a future phase of development in the works.

While the majority got on board with the mayor's rationale enough to move forward with the question of Base Village, councilman Tom Goode asked Butler and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk to "compromise a little bit" more.

During the Base Village discussion, members of town council also referenced a newspaper article in which an East West executive said the group is "not interested" in leasing any spaces to dispensaries.

"What we think Base Village is about is families first, and we just don't think that's the right fit for that type of environment here," East West managing partner Andy Gunion told the Snowmass Sun in an interview Aug. 6. "Our retail space is somewhat limited (and) we have more ideas already than we actually have spaces for."

The majority owners of Snowmass' other commercial areas — including Jordan Sarick of Eastwood Snowmass Investors, which owns the Snowmass Center, and Dwayne Romero of The Romero Group, which bought the bulk (80,000 square feet) of the Snowmass Mall in late June for $28.5 million — were open to allowing pot shops.

In fact, talk arose at the meeting that Romero has been showing vacant spaces on the second floor of the mall to potential pot shops tenants.

Romero told the Sun on Oct. 16, "When individuals both in Snowmass Village as well as operators in the valley have asked to come take a look (at vacant spaces), we have been willing and able to do that."

He added, "We probably haven't had a marijuana showing in two and a half months, and we have not been soliciting … but there are a couple of spaces (on the Snowmass Mall) that have over 10 years of structural vacancy on them that we'd be thrilled to get filled."

Regarding the Snowmass mall and center, the council majority also agreed the main level of both developments are off limits.

Town Councilman Bill Madsen was not supportive of the first-floor ban at the center, citing his concerns of creating a "back-alley" business environment.

"I think we have to be really careful of making this a back-alley industry … I'm very hesitant about trying to push it to the back," he said.

On the other side, Shenk offered, "I would not be thrilled if I was coming in there with kids, which I do every day," and was met with a dispensary at the main level.

Other specific restrictions the council majority decided include: A 300-foot buffer from the town's two licensed daycares, Treehouse and the Westin Hotel kid's club; a 200-foot buffer along the Skittles route on Fanny Hill and a 100-foot buffer from the edges of Snowmass Ski Area. The elected officials also agreed to prohibit dispensary signage or storefronts from being visible along Brush Creek Road or Carriage Way.

Another issue council grappled with is whether it should ban an area around Challenge Aspen's office on the second floor of the Snowmass Center.

The nonprofit's CEO Jeff Hauser, in a letter to the mayor dated Sept. 20, asked that the town "prevent any dispensaries from being in close proximity to our office, as to not affect the experience of our participants."

The majority at Monday's meeting overruled this request.

"They're about 10 steps away from a bar," Madsen said of the neighboring Zane's Tavern. "I think that we have to look at marijuana and alcohol in the same vein."

The only detail the council has left to hammer out in its regulatory scheme is whether it also wants to cap the number of marijuana licenses the town distributes.

Town attorney John Dresser has urged the council to pose regulations and let the market dictate the rest.

"That's what everybody says not to do," Butler said Monday. "I don't really like the idea of 'let the market drive it'."

After an hour and a half discussion, council decided to revisit this issue at its next meeting Dec. 3 when all members are expected to be present.

Dispensaries have been under a moratorium in Snowmass Village since 2013, after Colorado voters approved recreational pot sales in November 2012.

With the town's latest moratorium set to expire at the end of the month, the council at the meeting Monday voted on second reading to extend the moratorium again until April 30.

The latest motion marked the town of Snowmass' third time prolonging its moratorium on marijuana.

In previous discussions of again delaying the pot ban, Dresser and council acknowledged that the town is able to lift the moratorium before the imposed deadline.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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