By Don Nelson
The Winthrop Town Council has decided to consider creating a conditional use permit process that could allow the retail sale of marijuana in the Horizon Flats area.
At its meeting last week, the council directed town planner Rocklynn Culp to come up with proposed language that would permit a retail marijuana outlet in what is now a light industrial zone, under specific operational guidelines.
The action came after a public hearing on how the town should deal with the siting of marijuana retail sales shops, during which eight people testified. Council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon was the only council member to vote against a motion to move toward a conditional use permit scenario.
Last week’s public hearing had been postponed from an earlier date while the council considered an appeal of Culp’s previous decision to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana in the Horizon Flats area. Austin Lott, who is seeking to operate a retail marijuana outlet at a Horizon Flats location, had appealed planner Culp’s determination that the area’s current light industrial zoning doesn’t permit such a retail use. The council rejected that appeal in a 3-2 vote.
Because some incidental retail activities are already allowed in the Horizon Flats light industrial zone, the council’s discussions have focused on whether marijuana sales should also be allowed. The cultivation and processing of marijuana would be allowed under current zoning.
Another intense topic has been whether it would be better to have a retail marijuana outlet at Horizon Flats, away from pedestrian traffic and tourists, as opposed to another potential retail site on Riverside Avenue.
Some residents have argued against allowing any kind of retail sales within the town limits.
All of those issues were revisited at last week’s public hearing.
Lott reiterated his contention that it’s unfair for the town to prohibit his retail operation when there are already so many similar uses allowed in the Horizon Flats area.
Noah Ashford told the council that Horizon Flats is “a perfect place” for a retail outlet because most people would not like to see it in the downtown area. Matthew Bernhard agreed, noting that Horizon Flats is “out of the way already.”
Ardis Bynum urged the council not to rezone Horizon Flats, and Roxie Miller said that rezoning the area without considering the entire zoning code and process would be a mistake.
Gregg Knott pointed out that voters in the state of Washington, Okanogan County and the Town of Winthrop all approved the sale of recreational marijuana in a statewide referendum. The question is not whether sales should be permitted, but rather under what conditions, he said.
“I am not telling you how to fix it,” Knott said. “I am just asking you to fix it.”
After the hearing closed, council member Rick Northcott said he would consider putting conditions on retail marijuana sales in a zone such as Horizon Flats. “It seems most people would want it up there,” he said.
Council member Mort Banasky said she doesn’t have a problem with marijuana sales in Horizon Flats, but added that the council should also be thinking about how it would handle other such requests if more people pursue retail sales outlets.
Culp told the council that a conditional use permit could be possible if it is “narrowly defined” as limited to retail uses and includes specific operational conditions.
The council adopted Northcott’s motion directing Culp to come up with some potential language. If the council considers and adopts a conditional use process, Lott would then have to go through another permitting process and public hearing, Culp said.
Lott said this week that he sees the council action as a “win.”
“It was what I wanted to happen,” he said.
Lott said that restrictions on hours or days of operation could be problematic, but added that “I will be a reasonable person.”