By Laurelle Walsh

The Winthrop Town Council has directed the town’s Planning Commission to consider a zoning code amendment which would allow a retail marijuana business to open in the Horizon Flats neighborhood.

Hopeful entrepreneur Austin Lott submitted a letter to the council at its Jan. 15 meeting, requesting the change.

Lott’s request first went before the Planning Commission at its Jan. 13 meeting. The commission then passed the question along to the town council.

“The Planning Commission doesn’t want to take up this issue on its own,” Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said. A zoning code amendment may be initiated by a land owner, the Planning Commission or the town council, Culp said.

Retail business is currently not allowed in Horizon Flats, which is zoned Industrial and Residential, though “we know that there is some retail happening up there,” Culp said.

Culp reminded council members that they had directed her to “treat marijuana businesses like any other,” referring to a council discussion last July.

Culp said the commission would consider this change along with another code amendment currently on its docket. “The Planning Commission will be moving pretty fast. There’s every reason to keep this on track for a timely process,” Culp told the council.

A public hearing will be required before any changes are permanent, Culp said.

Lott has applied for a retail marijuana license through the state of Washington, and is waiting, along with more than 2,000 others across the state, to hear if his application will be approved. Twelve retail applications with addresses in Okanogan County have so far been processed, according to the state Liquor Control Board. The county has been allotted five retail licenses, with one designated for Omak.

If eligible applications exceed the number allotted for a jurisdiction, applications will be selected by lottery, according to the Liquor Control Board.

“If I get picked, they’re going to start asking me about location. If there’s nobody [at Town Hall] they can talk to about it, they’ll go on to the next application,” Lott said.

Culp said the town could document that it is going through a rezoning process, which might give support to Lott’s proposed location at 29 Horizon Flats Road.

State has final say

The state mandates a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries, which limits the locations in town where a marijuana retailer could operate. Culp’s preliminary drawing indicates a handful of properties on the south end of Riverside Avenue as well as some on the east side of Highway 20 south of the Ace Hardware store as viable locations.

“Ultimately it is up to the state to grant approval to a location,” Culp said.

“I like the fact that Washington state is progressing in this direction,” council member Mort Banasky said. “I’m for it.”

Council member Rick Northcott expressed concern about “creating a big retail area up there … . At the same time I think we need to capitalize on taxes and so forth,” he said.

Newly sworn-in council member Mike Strulic said he was in favor of marijuana business. “It’s environmentally friendly, good for jobs and commerce,” he said.

The only other retail license application with a Winthrop address is at 303 Riverside Ave. Kristin Devin, owner of that property, one of the few downtown addresses that could house a marijuana retail, said that she had been contacted by a man, now living in Bellingham, who wanted to use her address on the state license application. Devin allowed it, but emphasized that the building, now occupied by Mountain Paws and Fharnham Bronze, would only become available if and when the current tenant decides not to renew the lease, she said.

Other state applications listing a Winthrop address include one processor and two producer applications.

While the Town of Winthrop has already expressed its intention to treat marijuana business applications like any other, other jurisdictions, such as the cities of Omak and Wenatchee, have issued permanent bans on marijuana businesses.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson ruled on Thursday (Jan. 16) that local jurisdictions have a right to ban marijuana-related businesses. At the same time, a House Bill was introduced earlier last week that would penalize local governments that deny such enterprises. For more details, see: State’s AG says cities and counties can ban pot businesses.

Busy council session

In other Winthrop news, three council members were sworn in at the Jan. 15 meeting. Rick Northcott began his third term on the council; Michael Strulic began his first term; and Jessica Sheehan was appointed to fill the vacancy created when Sue Langdalen took the post of mayor. Sheehan was the only applicant for the position, which expires in 2015.

The council approved a proposal to repair the Winthrop Barn’s malfunctioning exterior doors, presented by Winthrop Auditorium Association board member Robert Stone.

Stone said that after consulting with RRRaceway owner Ron Race, the best solution would be to install a stationary bar down the center of the doorway, allowing each door to open singly, “with one latch instead of four. It will be more secure and easier to open and close,” he said.

The town agreed to pay the cost of “lesser-quality” hardware — $2,615.23 — with the Auditorium Association paying the difference for “greater-quality” hardware, described by Stone as “commercial, hospital-grade,” at a cost of $4,844.35.

Stone said that once the parts arrive, Race would have the hardware installed in two days.

The council also approved a contract for professional services from Tackman Surveying to “fix inadequacies” in the town’s plan for the Susie Stephens Trail crossing of Highway 20 opposite the Virginian Resort, according to Planner Culp.

“The earlier plans provided inadequate details,” Culp said. Council approved a total cost of services not to exceed $2,800.

In public comments, Westernization Architectural Committee member Lynette Westendorf presented a letter to the council suggesting that the outdoor lighting at the Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink be made “dark skies compliant” during upcoming renovations.

Westendorf suggested that installing hoods over the lights would “prevent excessive light pollution … prevent visual glare to drivers, pedestrians and the surrounding communities.”

Council member Strulic remarked, “She brings up a good point. Those lights are ridiculous. Something has to be done about them.”

Brian and Amy Sweet, in the process of renovating the former Grubstake & Co. building in order to open a new outdoor equipment store, said they had “recently been thrown a curve ball” by Public Works Superintendent Rick Karro, after submitting a building plan on Dec. 7.

According to Brian Sweet, their plan had been approved by both the town’s building inspector and Westernization committee, but Karro objected to their extending the roof line in front of the building because the boardwalk is on private property and therefore any snow shedding onto the street would have come from private property.

Planner Culp said at issue is a town ordinance stating that any developed property must retain storm water on site; however, “this body has the authority to direct town resources and decide how we want to enforce a standard.”

The council approved a motion to give Mayor Langdalen authority to work with town staff to “make the Sweets’ building application happen.” Council member Gayle Bryant-Cannon was the only dissenting voice, stating she was “not comfortable going against an ordinance.”