Snowmass to extend marijuana moratorium a third time, pot shops still on target |

Snowmass to extend marijuana moratorium a third time, pot shops still on target

Erica Robbie
Snowmass Sun

In an effort to buy more time to figure out where pot shops belong in Snowmass, the Town Council is extending the town’s moratorium on marijuana sales for a third time.

The council voted unanimously at a meeting Sept. 17 to prolong the moratorium until April 30, 2019. Town Councilman Bob Sirkus was absent.

The discussion was brief, as the council had established at the meeting less than a week prior that it would need to push the moratorium, which otherwise would have expired Oct. 31, again in order to reach a consensus on how the town should regulate dispensaries. Reviewing such terms was the purpose of the divided council’s work session the week before, and ultimately what led it to realize that it would not agree on a scheme by the end of next month.

“With these kinds of discussions, I’m going to be presumptuous and say it’s going to be difficult to get the regulations in place before the moratorium ends,” Snowmass Town Manager Clint Kinney said Sept. 11.

While the Town Council has moved in the direction of allowing pot shops since late June, the final green light came at a meeting Sept. 4, when the council majority voted against taking the question to voters in the upcoming election. With the deadline to submit ballot language passed, the council’s next step is develop the framework.

The tone at the work session Sept. 11 was lighter than the previous pot-related meeting, which at times grew heated. While differences in opinion remain, the council members seemed more agreeable and willing to work together to determine Snowmass’ regulatory scheme.

During its first discussion of the regulatory scheme Aug. 13, Mayor Markey Butler and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk — both strongly against pot shops in Snowmass Village — asked town staff to incorporate child care and educational facilities zones into the plan.

Consequently, the second draft included “youth location restriction buffers” that would restrict dispensaries from operating “in close proximity to these sensitive areas,” the proposal states.

At the request of Butler and Shenk, town staff also created a zone district overlay that identified Aspen School District bus stops for additional regulatory consideration.

However, the town council majority — Bob Sirkus, Tom Goode and Bill Madsen — voted the school bus stops out of the picture.

A council majority also agreed that it would like to see more restrictions placed on Fanny Hill and along the Skittles gondola route — an area that sees a high volume of children.

Other key points of the proposed regulations to date include a ban on dispensaries along the main pedestrian level of the Snowmass Mall between Daly and Elbert Lane, a 4.5-square-foot cap on a pot shop’s main sign, the creation of a new zone-district overlay, maximum operating hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and odor enforcement.

To regulate the number of pot shops in Snowmass, Town Manager Clint Kinney said it makes more sense to enforce the distance between dispensaries rather than limit the number of licenses the town distributes. The council is currently exploring 300 square feet to 500 square feet as distances between shops.

Butler said Sept. 11 that Aspen City Councilwoman Ann Mullins in a recent conversation advised Snowmass to cap the number of dispensaries allowed.

“(Mullins) wishes they would have limited the number of pot shops in Aspen to four versus letting the economy” dictate, Butler said.

Town attorney John Dresser said the staff “is recommending a spatially based scheme … to try and dial in the right density the market will support without getting into picking individual operators.”

The elected officials attempted to hash out details such as what type of educational programming Challenge Aspen, located on the upstairs of the Snowmass Mall, provides and whether it should boast its own set of protections from dispensaries.

Further, council members requested the scheme’s next iteration include a buffer shielding the Base Village plaza and ice-skating rink.

Dresser agreed to add a 100-, 200- and 300-foot circle around the area to draft three of the framework.

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

Along with prolonging the moratorium, Dresser advised the council on more than one occasion to craft the scheme based on the “broader picture” and not by seeking to predict what commercial owners may develop in the future or to which businesses they will lease.

A moratorium can be set for any amount of time and lifted before the imposed deadline. Butler on Sept. 11 had proposed an extension of three to six months, to which Goode countered, “I think we’re stalling with six months.”

The council vote on Sept. 17 was the first reading to extend the moratorium. As part of the two-reading ordinance process, the Town Council is expected to vote again at a meeting Oct. 15.

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