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In a move that surprised even the applicant, the Chaffee County Planning Commission during their Feb. 26 meeting, unanimously moved to recommend to county commissioners an amendment to current Chaffee County Land Use Code on medical/retail marijuana retail centers: allowing them in industrial zones. The language of the citizen-initiated amendment, proposed by Sterling Stoudenmire and Pure Greens, reads “medical/retail marijuana center shall be permitted on industrial-zoned property where existing and licensed optional premises cultivation center or infused product manufacturing facilities are already located.”

Pure Greens CEO Stoudenmire declined to comment after the public hearing, saying he wanted to think about what to say. During the hearing, he pointed out one of the reasons for the amendment.

“We’re a business. Wholesale market prices have declined 70 percent in the past couple of years and a retail center provides product margin. As it stands right now, our county laws favor those who produce in other areas and distribute their product in medical and retail marijuana centers here,” said Stoudenmire. “But they punish Chaffee County growers. We can’t even sell to our own [product to] employees.”

The recommendation does not remove the county’s moratorium on additional marijuana licenses, which has been in place since 2010. In fact, the planning commissioners’ decision specifically chose not to mention the moratorium as a finding of their recommendation. Their lengthy deliberation ranged from the amount of industrially-zoned land in the county, to the meaning of the moratorium wording, to whether approval would favor existing growers over new applicants who might want to set up operations, and whether approving a single zone area, rather than addressing the overall scope of marijuana licensing is wise.

“The commissioners want a “more robust” process related to marijuana licensing (I have heard) but I don’t yet know what that means,” said Assistant County Attorney Daniel Tom.

“The concern is if we lift the moratorium, these types of operations would chew up all our industrial property,” said Director of Development Services Dan Swallow. “We don’t have much of it.”

Chair Mike Allen wondered aloud whether or not recommending approval in only one zone might irritate county commissioners. “This needs to be addressed on a larger framework,” said Allen. “Maybe we need to rethink – if commissioners are going toward allowing these, we should maybe consider these sorts of activities in commercial zones as well.”

Some planning commissioners pushed back, saying that the conversation about medical/retail marijuana retail centers was being influenced by the product, not the business question being raised. “Taking away that it is marijuana – that land could be leased by any other industry,” said Planning Commissioner Anderson Horne. “We’re thinking about this differently because of what it is, not because of it being another industry here.”

“We don’t see an issue from a land use side. Let the commissioners decide the policy,” said Planning Commissioner Marjo Curgus. “This is crafted not as new cultivation, it is adding sales to an existing, functional operation.”

“If we rewrite it (LUC) now, we’re not opening the door,” said Planning Commissioner David Kelly. “If this is currently a grow operation, it’s in an industrial zone and it would require a state license and us changing our code. So their first step is to have the code allow them to do this.”

Planning Commissioner Joe Stone reminded the public that the state’s wording is not entirely accurate. “The state got the word wrong. It should say ‘recreational’ (marijuana) and not ‘retail’ marijuana.”

Questions arose related to the actual wording of the county moratorium, including the difference between “licensee” versus “licenses”.

“The moratorium covers the issuance of new licenses. The applicant (licensee) currently has more than one license, but there is a prohibition on putting in new retail centers,” said Kelly.

“I’ve gone over this with the county for five years and there’s a phrase there called ‘licensees’ – as opposed to ‘licenses’,” said Stoudenmire. “The point was to limit the number of licenses – there actually are licenses available here. Six licenses were issued, one was given back, so five total – there are only three cultivation licenses in Smeltertown — so there are two licenses available for others.” He added that he doubted they would be used for wholesale grow operations given the wholesale prices.

He reminded the planning commission that when the county passed a 2.5 percent county sales tax on marijuana, it was aimed at and has been funded by, only a few county businesses. “It’s a tax that this year has supplied some $100,000 in funding to county non-profit organizations, 90 percent of the funds raised by the tax are from Pure Greens activities, and given to entities to which we cannot directly make donations.”

During deliberation, planning commission debated whether to simply approve it, or deny and direct the assistant attorney to draft a code change broader than what was being requested, then invite the commissioners to a joint work session about it. In Planning Commissioner Bill Baker’s words, “approving it now would be throwing the ball in the commissioner’s court.”

In the end, that is what they did. Their motion, made by Allen, seconded by Stone and approved unanimously, recommends approval of the text amendment to county commissioners, based on findings reflected in the staff report (with the exception of a reference to the moratorium). The recommendation will be forwarded with a request for a joint work session on the topic.

In other business, planning commissioners approved the zoning map amendment requested by Dvora Kanegis, 7727 CR 150, Salida. It corrects a 2014 re-zoning error when the parcel was incorrectly changed from industrial zoning to residential.

Planning commissioners also approved a minor subdivision sketch plan for El Rancho Vaquero, located at 28445 Gregg Drive, Buena Vista. The project, proposed by Shirley Graham, divides 29.28 acres, with Lot 1 retaining a Heritage Water Subdivision Exemption Certificate and creating three new lots in what is now called out-lot A.