Summit County rejects appeal from Keystone marijuana retailer
April 27, 2016
Summit County has, for the time being, firmly shut the door on retail marijuana in Keystone.
At a near-capacity public hearing on Tuesday afternoon, Summit's Board of County Commissioners — acting as a three-member quasi-judicial panel — unanimously upheld the previous findings of its Planning Department on the issue. As a result, the decision denied the appeal of a proposed business calling itself Higher Function for a license to sell retail marijuana in the Quicksilver Commercial Site at U.S. Highway 6 at Tennis Club Road.
"After the voters of the state of Colorado approved recreational marijuana," said Commissioner Thomas Davidson in the hearing, "we moved right away to go ahead and set up a regime for how we could approve those sites. But that doesn't mean that we would approve sites just anywhere. I believe strongly that the vast majority of owners and residents in Keystone don't see this as appropriate."
Business owner and longtime Keystone resident Kelly McMurray and planned store manager Joe McIntyre, also of Keystone, appeared at the County Courthouse in Breckenridge on Tuesday to ask that the Planning Department's previous decision be overturned. The two came armed with various data and statistics, as well as upwards of 1,800 local signatures across two petitions they felt supported their cause to grant the license.
The presentation to the commissioners was led by McIntyre, who said he's owned 13 prior marijuana licenses. He disputed the arguments of the many Keystone citizens, part-time residents and home owners association groups that originally objected to the storefront. He argued that, as has already proven true in Breckenridge, Dillon and other mountain communities such as Crested Butte, a recreational shop in this location would not hurt area property values, nor conflict with the family-friendly environment Keystone markets.
When the open comment period arrived after McIntyre wrapped up his statement, however, only members of the public who opposed the retail shop approached the podium. From a Keystone couple with children who wait at a bus stop near the proposed store to a number of area HOA members and neighborhood organizations, all 11 voiced their concerns with potential approval of this license.
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Several, including representatives of the Keystone Citizens League, Keystone Neighbourhood Company and the HOAs of Quicksilver and Sts. Johns condos, among others, declared they conducted internal complex surveys. One by one, each asserted that results within their communities came back at approximately 80 percent opposing Higher Function's suggested location.
No one besides McIntyre gave public comment in favor of the store. That was, according to the commissioners, all they needed to hear.
"Decisions are made by those that show up," said Commissioner Dan Gibbs. "That's what hits me to core, that the people that live in that area don't want that in their backyards. I feel like I heard compelling evidence today, and people showed up."
Higher Function's application process has been prolonged. Because Keystone is in an unincorporated area of the region, the request — the first of its kind — and subsequent appeal had to go through county government.
McMurray submitted her initial application for the license to the county on Sept. 21 of last year. The bid for the 500-square-foot space behind the grocery store and Shell gas station in Keystone was returned because the business did not first acquire the necessary permit from the state — a condition she and McIntyre both argued was inconsistent and unprecedented among the county's other 10 shops as well as in the state. Still, they followed the county's requirements, received the necessary state documentation on Dec. 24 and resubmitted the application on Jan. 4.
The Summit County Planning Department, the agency charged with reviewing these proposals, accepted the application and sent out public notice to the affected neighborhoods on Feb. 11 to start a 15-day period for public input. The comments flooded in, with the department receiving nearly 500 pieces of correspondence and approaching 70 percent of it in opposition of the proposed store.
The resolution the county adopted in October 2015 concerning the licensure of retail marijuana outlets lists eight total criteria in granting or denying an application. Those include such components as aligning with the zoning code to considering the pubic feedback received and whether the location would be in harmony with the surrounding land uses.
Planning manager Lindsay Hirsh led the review process regarding Higher Function, to be located at 21801 U.S. Highway 6 after McMurray signed a lease at the location in August 2015. Hirsh denied the application on Feb. 26, and the decision was formally appealed to the Board of County Commissioners a week later, which brought the ongoing process to Tuesday afternoon's public hearing.
In issuing her conclusion on the matter at hand, Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier noted that she voted in favor of Colorado's Amendment 64 in November 2012 because it was "the will of the voters." She also expressed appreciation for Higher Function voluntary limitations such as steering clear of selling edible marijuana because of "the unknown factor" associated with them, in addition to avoiding advertising and any signage.
"The criteria that I'm paying attention to is the needs and desires of the adult inhabitants of the neighborhood," she said. "We're still in a grand experiment with this, and we're evolving in this process. Perhaps as this experiment moves on, we will find that it's just like another liquor store."
Aside from a growing problem of opioid use in the county, Stiegelmeier also stated her concern over the dangerous levels of consumption and availability of alcohol in our society in delivering her verdict. She expressed there being no shortage of access to alcohol, but that, for her, it all comes back to siding with the preferences of local residents.
"If it was a liquor store and 80 percent didn't want it, we wouldn't approve that either," she said afterwards.
Following the hearing, McMurray said she and McIntyre have spent plenty of money attempting to acquire this final piece of certification to begin selling marijuana in Keystone. She added that "it has been a battle" and confirmed that she and her business partner McIntyre would now back away from Higher Function to pursue other business opportunities in the community.
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