Summit County commissioners reject Keystone-area marijuana license

Community members gather in the Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting room in the Summit County Courthouse on Tuesday, Oct. 12, for the board's regular meeting. Community members were waiting to comment on a license for a proposed marijuana dispensary near Keystone.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

There’s no dispensary coming to Keystone.

The Summit Board of County Commissioners voted to reject the retail marijuana license for The Tree Line dispensary in the Keystone area during its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12. The license was denied in a split 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence dissenting.

Applicant Zack Becker and his family proposed to build a 1,200-square-foot dispensary at the corner of U.S. Highway 6 and Rasor Drive, adjacent to the Mountain View Plaza and in close proximity to nearby residential neighborhoods.

The Summit County Planning Department rejected the initial application for a retail marijuana license last month, citing its perceived incompatibility with the nearby neighborhoods. The Becker family appealed the decision to the Board of County Commissioners, but the board ultimately decided to ax the concept due in large part to strong opposition from residents in the area.

“As we look at the different issues before us today, the application on appeal does present challenges to the public health and safety in the immediate area, and as we’ve seen, (there’s) opposition from the majority of the … adult inhabitants in the immediate neighborhood,” Commissioner Josh Blanchard said about his decision. “Clearly, we can look at some of the issues brought forth, but as a summary, those are the two key takeaways.”

Senior planner Sid Rivers kicked off the meeting, noting that county staff was again recommending the board reject the license because the application failed to meet certain criteria, namely that a dispensary would fail to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the community.

She said that of the 304 emails the county had received from community members, 176 were opposed to the idea, and most of the opponents came from the immediate area.

Indeed, there was a sizable group that attended the meeting, both in person and virtually, to voice their distaste for the proposed development. Residents listed numerous concerns, including traffic and pedestrian volumes and safety, how a dispensary would impact the family-friendly image of the community, parking availability in the retail center, assertions that marijuana users would illegally consume the products on-site and its close proximity to neighborhoods — within 63 feet of the nearest resident, according to Rivers — among others.

“That intersection is already dangerous for pedestrians and traffic,” Keystone resident Aaron Parmet said. “Parking is frequently a disaster in the parking center and on the roads there with illegal and double parking going on. … Thousands of people will be walking across that road to access the stop — the only place that you could then get it. We live on the north side of the highway, so as not to be in the midst of all the tourists in Keystone, and having that focused in a neighborhood that is already over capacity would be throwing gasoline on the fire.”

“It would be wonderful if it was an ice cream shop or perhaps a cool little restaurant, but a pot dispensary in a family neighborhood is not appropriate,” Keystone resident Reid Roberts said. “Pot dispensaries, in our opinion, should be in commercial areas. … It’s just a little strip center of five or six businesses in the middle of a residential area, and what businesses occupy that matters to the people that live around here.”

David Foster, an attorney representing the applicants, said that the application had already checked most of the necessary boxes for approval as established by the county’s code, such as distance requirements, parking regulations and state permits. Foster also said many of the arguments made by opponents of the dispensary, such as traffic concerns, should be discussed during site planning and weren’t relevant in whether the Becker family should be given a retail marijuana license.

And while most of the community members speaking at the public hearing were opposed to the dispensary, several did speak in favor of it, noting that a local dispensary would actually decrease traffic on the highway, increase sales taxes, provide jobs and support small, local business in lieu of a marijuana chain attempting to come into the area sometime in the future, among other arguments.

“This conversation isn’t really about statistics or parking or legalization of marijuana,” resident William Eby said. “It’s about a business license, and when you think about who you want to work in a family community, I don’t think you’ll find anyone better than a family like the Beckers. … I think it’s a matter of time until you have a dispensary in Keystone. Why would you want a large corporation to force their way in when you could have a partner in the community like the Beckers and a locally owned, locally run, locally sourced product that you have run by a family.”

Lawrence voted to approve the license, saying that the idea that a legal dispensary couldn’t be “family friendly” was insulting and that demonizing marijuana while a liquor store stands next door to the proposed development was unfair.

“I think you can have a legal (marijuana) business in Colorado and still be family friendly, as well,” Lawrence said. “I certainly understand the fear of many people in the neighborhood, especially with children and just that this would be different. But we can’t ignore the legality in both the county and the state for such a highly … regulated industry and the lack of parity when … there is a liquor store the same amount of feet away from the neighborhood.”

But ultimately, there was enough opposition from the community to sway the decision toward a rejection.

“I think we need to treat this license like any other business license,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “And in making a decision on any other business license that had this much pushback from all of the surrounding neighborhoods, I would not make the decision to put that business in that location.”

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