Frisco gives thumbs up to new marijuana shop by Holiday Inn
January 30, 2015
After two weeks of national media attention and a final night of heated protest, the Frisco Town Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that will allow Medical Marijuana of the Rockies to set up shop across from the Holiday Inn.
The council voted 5-1 in favor of the revised ordinance, which was recently updated to align the town's retail and medical marijuana codes with Colorado's ever-changing laws, town attorney Thad Renaud said.
Mayor Pro Tem Larry Sawyer cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concern over a unanimous decision for such a volatile issue. Councilwoman Kathleen Bartz was not in attendance.
Before the vote, the council heard from a slew of locals, including Jerry Olson, owner of Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, and four representatives of the Holiday Inn. The hotel's comments ranged from pleas for a delayed council decision to claims of possible discrimination and, when legal representative Dave Helmer took the dais, at least one allusion to litigation.
"If this passes tonight, I think you might give rise to lawsuits," Helmer said at the meeting.
Helmer's brief statement came shortly after an impassioned speech from the hotel's director of sales, Andy Bradford. The hotel has already felt negative impacts from the potential new dispensary, he said, even as Olson's occupancy application is pending approval with the town.
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Bradford said the hotel could lose $130,000 in reservations next November if two out-of-state ski teams, Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and Rowmark Ski Academy of Utah, decide to cancel after seeing the ordinance battle appear on multiple news websites.
"When I see two letters from two of my biggest clients, one after the other in an hour, it feels like wildfire," Bradford told the council. "It's a scary thing for me to lose $130,000. That's money out of my pocket and money away from the hotel that I now have to find somewhere else. I'm scared. We're growing, and I'm just asking you guys to slow down a bit."
The council did not budge, citing an argument from the first reading of the ordinance on Jan. 13: Frisco couldn't and shouldn't change residential dwelling laws for a single business.
Because the Holiday Inn is a commercial property, the 10 employees who work and live at the hotel fall outside of the so-called residential umbrella. That umbrella requires dispensaries to be at least 500 feet away from schools, child care centers and homes.
"The saying is, 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse,'" Councilwoman Kim Cancelosi told hotel representatives. "When you bought the property, you did your own due diligence. To see these people are canceling contracts, that's the same as people who cancel because of bad snow. Blaming cancellations on anything can just get to the point of being absurd."
For Bradford, Helmer and Bill Carroll, a member of the hotel's executive management team, a neighborhood pot store would threaten the hotel's bottom line and family-friendly brand.
In a refrain of his comments at the Jan. 13 meeting, Bradford reminded the council that out-of-state ski teams are regulars at the Holiday Inn early in the season. Most of those skiers travel with their families — the bulk of his hotel's traffic.
Over the past five years, Holiday Inn has spent $12.5 million on renovations and hosted roughly 90,000 guests annually.
"This affects an area that has been good to the town of Frisco," Helmer said. "I would ask that you not pass this ordinance, or at the very least table it so that we can do some more investigating."
The retail and medical marijuana ordinances have been part of the town code since 2009 and 2013, respectively. The ordinances limit where dispensaries can operate, and since no two dispensaries can be within 700 feet of each other, Olson wants to expand his enterprise by moving to a space that is large enough for retail and medical sales.
The first step is purchasing the two-story, 10,000-square-foot Holiday Center building across from Holiday Inn. Both structures sit on land that has been zoned for commercial use since the 1970s. Barring any logistical snags, Olson expects to open his combined medical and retail dispensary, Summit Marijuana, in the next few weeks.
For the council, the hotel's pleas were too little, too late, particularly when the town's three current dispensaries have proven to be good neighbors in the first year of legal marijuana.
"These business are watched pretty closely," said Mayor Gary Wilkinson, who caught heat from Team Summit for a comment about ski racers and marijuana use. "It's not a business that you go into lightly, and I'm sure that if this is approved, Jerry (Olson) will do everything he can to work with the neighbors to make sure he doesn't create an impact that is harmful to the neighborhood. That impacts him also."
After hearing input from hotel representatives, Olson spoke briefly about his business and background, noting he was a lead reservations agent for the Sonnenalp hotel in Vail before founding Medical Marijuana of the Rockies. He then offered to help Bradford and the hotel sales team recover lost bookings.
"I look forward to doing things that are good for the town, building a sustainable industry, and I want to continue trying to work things out," Olson said to the council before directly addressing Carroll and the hotel's Adam Pietraszek, "if you're open to being friends."
The good-neighbor argument didn't sit well with Pietraszek, general manager for the Holiday Inn and a member of the hotel group that owns nine properties across the state, including in Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. None of those properties have encountered issues with dispensaries and zoning, Carroll and Pietraszek said.
"I wonder why this is happening to my family business," Pietraszek said. "My question is: When someone says 'marijuana,' what comes to mind? Drugs? Criminal activities? More police? More violence? Do you want to put this town on the map of Colorado as the potheads of the Rockies?"
Pietraszek continued to say a nearby dispensary would damage his hotel's brand. Bradford echoed the concern, citing the December decision to keep marijuana off of Main Street in Breckenridge.
Along with Carroll, the three hotel representatives said the council is dangerously close to discriminating against the hotel's resident employees. Three of those residents, including a young child in a stroller, attended the meeting and were introduced by Pietraszek.
"According to some people, they are not residents, but if you look at every other ordinance, (they are) treating them like a resident," Pietraszek said. "They have their families. They live there."
As the lone dissenting vote, Sawyer didn't disagree with the council's decision. Rather, he wanted to leave room for discussion if the relationship between the town and Holiday Inn spirals out of control. Yet he also spoke directly to the resident employees, saying he believes they should be privy to the same protection as all residents, even if zoning laws allow for pot next door.
"Deep in my soul there's a sensitivity for people who work to live in a building," says Sawyer, who in his 20s managed an apartment complex in return for rent.
"But my sense is if it became apparent that they were being treated as second-class citizens, I would be very invested in it."
NO STONE 'UNTURNED'
After the meeting, the Holiday Inn representatives were visibly disappointed with the decision, though Pietraszek and Carroll declined to comment further on any potential lawsuits.
"We could not have been more disappointed and we intend to vigorously pursue any and all remedies that might be available," Carroll said on Wednesday. "We are not going to leave a stone unturned. We will not go quietly in the night — our guests and our employees are too important to us."
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