By Laurelle Walsh
The Winthrop Town Council approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for the town’s first retail marijuana store, Fresh Greens, at its meeting last Wednesday (July 2).
At a public hearing prior to the council’s decision, Town Planner Rocklynn Culp reported that the town had received “a small handful of written comments” on owner Austin Lott’s CUP application, and read aloud her staff recommendations and findings of fact for the council to consider.
Council member Rick Northcott asked if the town would be able to add conditions to the permit if there were “problems” after it was issued. Culp replied that once issued, the terms of the permit would be set, although violations would be subject to enforcement.
“This is a contract. The terms cannot be changed at the year-end review,” Culp added.
Culp recommended that the CUP be reviewed annually for the first three years to ensure compliance with the conditions.
Two residents of the Horizon Flats neighborhood, where Fresh Greens is located, spoke at the hearing.
Lori Loomis, co-owner of Lariat Coffee Roasters “just a stone’s throw away,” expressed concerns about the potential for increased crime in the neighborhood, based on “reports from Colorado,” where marijuana businesses have been operating since the first of the year.
“It’s the dark side of the moon up there at 8 o’clock on a winter night,” Loomis said. “Is there any provision for an increase in crime?” she asked.
Loomis also asked the council to consider restricting Fresh Greens’ hours of operation to reflect the other businesses in the neighborhood.
Resident Lauri Martin expressed concern over increased traffic in the neighborhood, and the potential for the business to draw people “who wouldn’t normally come up there,” she said.
Part-time Winthrop-area resident Robert Thorpe, an urban and regional planner, told the council that “if things are so grievous, a conditional use permit can be revoked. But regardless of how you feel about these uses, the [state] supreme court says you have to provide space for those uses.”
During council comments Northcott said, “we have heard clearly that nobody wants a business like this on main street,” referring to comments heard at prior public hearings on locating marijuana businesses. “But we have to provide space for it.”
“If all of a sudden we have shoot-’em-ups up there every week, I want to be able to pull the plug,” Northcott added.
“The state [Liquor Control Board] has all kinds of procedures in place for security,” council member Mort Banasky said. “We’re not standing alone here … I push against the idea that more crime necessarily goes along with marijuana.”
Days and hours of operation were the main sticking point between what Lott had requested and Culp’s recommendations to council, which limited open hours to between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday – Thursday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed on Sunday. Lott had hoped to be open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and “a little while” on Sundays, he told the News.
Council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon said she would like to see hours “tightened up” because of the business’ location near a residential area. A written comment by nearby resident Ardis Bynum also recommended limiting operating hours, according to Culp.
Lott argued that a business like his would be an allowed use in the downtown business district and could, by law, be open until midnight. “Clamping down too hard just because you can doesn’t make sense,” Lott said.
After around 30 minutes of discussion, Banasky moved that the council grant Lott’s CUP application, accepting the staff recommendations as presented. All present voted in favor.
“I accept their decision,” Lott told the News. “I can’t change it.”
On Monday (July 7) the Washington State Liquor Control Board issued the state’s first 24 marijuana retailer licenses. Lott was notified via email that morning that he was among those approved.
On Monday afternoon Lott was still waiting to hear from the producer/processors he had contacted in order to begin placing wholesale orders, but “things aren’t looking too good,” he said, and the state wasn’t providing any solutions.
“Unless I get a miracle phone call from some processor, it’ll be three to four weeks before I can get any product,” he said. The processors he had heard back from had either promised all of their available product to other vendors or did not have any pot ready to sell, he said.
“I spoke to a guy in Tonasket who will have 60 strains and a guy in Chelan with 100,” Lott said, but both of those growers told him it would be three to four weeks before they would have the bud harvested, cured and tested by the Analytical 360 cannabis analysis lab.
“I could open tomorrow and just sell paraphernalia, but that’s not really the point,” Lott said.
In other actions, the council approved a resolution allowing Laura Ruud, co-owner of Old Schoolhouse Brewery, to pay $4,500 in lieu of providing three off-street parking spaces as required by the construction of a 500-square-foot addition at the brewery.
And despite initial opposition by council member Mike Strulic, the council approved an extension of the town’s Fire Protection Interlocal Agreement with Okanogan County Fire District 6 for one year, effective until Dec. 31, 2015.