The Frisco Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved its controversial ordinance that will allow a medicinal marijuana store at the old A&W restaurant on Highway 9.
The ordinance did not pass, however, without another round of contentious public comments, the majority of which focused on the adverse effects further exposure to marijuana could have on local children and whether a marijuana shop on the town’s main drag was an appropriate legacy for Frisco.
Jon Boord, a real estate attorney representing 861 Summit Boulevard LLC, the purchaser of the A&W site, and Native Roots Apothecary, a Denver-based medicinal marijuana business that will occupy the A&W building, appeared before council for the first time since a series of marijuana-related ordinances were presented beginning in June.
Boord attempted to ease the concerns of local residents, saying it’s not his client’s intention to attract attention with inappropriate signage or to be a “beacon” of the marijuana industry with neon lighting.
Boord also addressed concerns about the A&W building not only being close to local schools, but also on Highway 9, which is a popular route for school children traveling to and from class. Boord argued Frisco already has two marijuana businesses on the highway, one in the Walmart shopping center and another no more than a half mile down the road.
“I can appreciate the desire of the community members to keep the integrity of the community,” Boord said. “It’s not our intention to be a blight on the community. I don’t know if I am talking to the right people — I think I am — but everyone we have spoken to has been really supportive of the site, of our business model and of our plans to rehabilitate the A&W that a lot of people consider to be a blighted building.”
After Boord’s comments, Councilwoman Kathleen Bartz addressed the handful of residents who attended the meeting, saying she understood their concerns, but was ethically obligated to vote in favor of the ordinance.
“I screwed up,” Bartz said. “I didn’t know when I voted for the emergency ordinance (in June) that we had this application and that there was someone who stood to lose so much.”
In June, the town council passed an emergency ordinance extending the required setback between marijuana businesses from 500 to 700 feet. The ordinance also increased setbacks from residential dwellings from 100 to 500 feet.
The controversy surrounding the A&W site began a month later when a second ordinance was presented to further amend the town’s marijuana codes. That ordinance, which passed Tuesday, stated that applicants who had filed a complete marijuana business license application prior to June would be judged by the licensing authority on the old setback rules.
The perception at the time was that the town council passed the emergency ordinance to block the A&W project and then later reversed course, presumably under pressure from the new A&W owners.
For the last month and a half, several town officials have said they were unaware of Native Roots’ application and wouldn’t have voted for the new setback restrictions in June had they known there was a pending application.
That claim was a difficult pill for some residents to swallow. Given the spirit of Amendment 64 — to regulate marijuana like alcohol — it’s not uncommon for town and city councils, which already serve as the liquor licensing authority, to take on the responsibility of reviewing and issuing marijuana business licenses.
However, after Tuesday’s meeting Frisco town attorney Thad Renaud said the marijuana licensing authority varies from one municipality to another. According to Colorado law, municipalities must designate a licensing authority for marijuana, but the law doesn’t specify who that official should be.
Although the Silverthorne Town Council elected to take on the responsibility of being the marijuana licensing authority, the town of Frisco delegated town clerk Deborah Wohlmuth. The city of Wheat Ridge, as another example, designated its sales tax supervisor to serve as the licensing authority.
Since the Frisco Town Council does not serve as the licensing authority, it would be reasonable that council members didn’t know about the pending application, Renaud said.
That information still didn’t clear up a second point of contention for some local residents who questioned the need for an emergency ordinance to adopt greater setbacks. Passing rules by emergency ordinance essentially removes the public from participating in the legislative process.
Town officials have defended the move by claiming the emergency ordinance was necessary to head off a potential flood of new business applications. The purpose of the setbacks was to further reduce the number of available retail spaces and prevent Frisco from becoming a mecca for pot enthusiasts.
Although claims of a potential influx of new applications were widespread, few officials were able to articulate the fear — until Tuesday night.
After the meeting, Mayor Gary Wilkinson said there was a sense of urgency in June because the state was nearing the next milestone in its retail marijuana experiment. On July 1, anyone interested in opening a retail marijuana shop could apply for a business license, regardless of previous industry experience. Until that point, only established medicinal marijuana businesses could apply for a new license to convert to retail.
“That’s why I’ve been saying all along neither one of these ordinances specifically targeted any one application,” said town manager Bill Efting.
“It was my responsibility to know whether or not we had any pending applications before we passed the emergency ordinance. I screwed that up and the intention of the ordinance that passed tonight was to clean up my mistake and to be fair to the applicant I overlooked.”
“I can appreciate the desire of the community members to keep the integrity of the community. It’s not our intention to be a blight on the community.”
attorney representing 861 Summit Boulevard LLC,
the purchaser of the A&W site