By Don Nelson

The Winthrop Town Council will hold a public forum on April 16 to give residents another chance to say how they feel about the retail sale of marijuana within town limits.

At its March 5 meeting, the council accepted a planning commission recommendation to solicit more public input rather than allow, as a conditional use, a marijuana retail sale outlet in the Horizon Flats industrial area.

The planning commission earlier held a public hearing that included discussion of a proposed change to the town zoning code to allow marijuana retail outlets in areas zoned for industrial use. According to a planning commission report, “industrial zone goals and policies emphasize light industrial uses; however, they do not preclude retail uses.”

Austin Lott had requested the zoning change to allow a retail marijuana outlet in the Horizon Flats area.

At that planning commission meeting in February, former mayor Dave Acheson testified against including operations that are primarily retail within industrial zones. Several other people also testified in opposition to the zoning change; others were opposed to allowing any retail sales of marijuana within town limits.

Although several firms in Horizon Flats area do have some retail sales, they are secondary to the main purpose of light industrial usage, town planner Rocklynn Culp pointed out.

At last week’s town council meeting, council member Rick Northcott said he’s willing to hear more testimony, but added that marijuana sales were approved by a majority of voters in the town, Okanogan County and the state. At the same time, he said, marijuana sales are not appropriate for industrially zoned areas.

Planning commission member Julie Muyllaert told the council that retail use would not be compatible in the industrial zone. “Ancillary” retail operations — such as Lariat Coffee Roasters selling coffee and other items from its roasting facility — are allowed.

“Retail is the issue, no matter what the retail operation is,” Muyllaert said. The planning commission recommendation, she said, was generally about retail uses and not specifically about marijuana.

Lott took issue with the council’s definition of the fine line between industrial and retail. “Retail is happening,” Lott said of the Horizon Flats area. “I can’t afford to buy property and put up a building [elsewhere]. I’m working with what I’ve got.”

The April 16 meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn. The meeting, ordinarily held in the small “Henhouse” room, may be moved to the Barn’s auditorium space to accommodate an anticipated crowd.

Other jurisdictions around the state are struggling with the marijuana sales issue. Omak and Wenatchee have opted not to allow retail marijuana sales. Bob Ferguson, the state attorney general, earlier issued a letter that Initiative 502, approved by voters to legalize marijuana sales in Washington, does not prevent local jurisdictions from enacting such bans.

Legislation introduced during the current session in Olympia would prevent local laws or ordinances from interfering with the legal marijuana market.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board issued its first marijuana-producers and processors licenses last week. Stores are expected to open in late June.

In other zoning business, the council approved a planning commission recommendation to allow multi-family residential developments in several additional zoning classifications. Culp said the action resolves some conflicts between the town’s comprehensive plan and its zoning code, and could promote more affordable housing.