The Ocean Shores City Council, by a 5-2 vote, passed a resolution Monday night that removes the city’s moratorium on a retail marijuana business within city limits, effectively allowing a pending application with the state Liquor Control Board to move toward final approval.
With council members John Schroeder and Ginny Hill voting against the measure, the rest of the council members said they wanted to end months of debate over the issue, turning back efforts to continue the moratorium or attempt to ask for further clarification about the pending location’s proximity to the city’s skatepark or public beaches.
The resolution states: “At this time, the City Council intends to end the moratorium and site the retail marijuana outlet per the Washington State Liquor Control Boards’s rules without additional City rules and zoning; however, the outlet must obtain a City business license and obey all laws and rules set forth by the City and State.”
The pending applicant, Ryan Kunkel of the Seattle area, spoke to the council and said he was hoping to open at the current chosen location, the Zimmerman Building at Ocean Shores Boulevard.
Kunkel and his company Green Outfitters was awarded Ocean Shores’ one retail marijuana license under the state’s new legalization initiative, with licensing run by the Liquor Control Board. The license is being reviewed by the state after a lottery involving three applicants for the right to sell marijuana in the city.
A zoning map initially prepared by the city and reviewed by the Planning Commission had considered the entire beach as establishing a 1,000-foot buffer from any such establishment. State regulations mandate that marijuana businesses may not be located within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, childcare centers, public parks, public transit centers, libraries or game arcades. The other debate has been about whether the city’s skatepark, located less than 1,000 feet from the proposed location, would meet the definition of a public park under the buffer.
Mayor Crystal Dingler on Monday night told the council that the state had determined the skatepark did not meet the definition, and that the state also didn’t have an issue with having residential units above a retail marijuana location.
The city’s draft of the resolution noted that Initiative No. 502 was “passed by the citizens allowed the licensing and regulation of the production, processing, and retail sale of recreational marijuana for persons over 21, removed state-law criminal and civil penalties for the activities that it authorizes, established taxes, and earmarked those funds.”
Several of the council members said they had voted against the initiative but were not going to let that influence their decision in allowing a business to move forward under the new law.
Gordon Broadbent read a prepared statement that said he voted against the measure because he felt it “would lead to a slippery slope.”
“But my position was rejected and recreational use of pot is now legal in the state of Washington. As your representative, it is now my job to interpret and follow the law.”
“It is with a heavy heart that I will vote tonight to follow the will of the citizens and the rules of the Liquor Control Board,” Broadbent continued. “Unless someone can show me a legal reason to disapprove sales in Ocean Shores, I will vote for the Liquor Control Board’s zoning recommendations and to end the current moratorium.”
Dingler presented the council with a set of multiple choices on what they could do, noting the council may still need to determine how to handle a future medical marijuana application or the potential issue of a growing and production operation.
Resident Don Williams requested that Dingler make public a record of the state’s determination that the skatepark and the beaches were not considered public parks, and warned that the a retail marijuana store would bring law enforcement and emergency service problems without any new funds or resources to pay for such burdens.
“There’s going to be a problem that is going to cost the city money to have this facility in town,” Williams said, playing audio of a news report about increased problems in Colorado, where retail marijuana sales already are legal. “If you don’t believe me, look at Colorado.”
Planning Commission member Holly Plackett, who presented a minority report urging opposition to the proposed location, defended the commission’s request to ask for further clarification on the buffer issues.
“The intention of the 1,000-foot buffer is to protect our children,” she said, asking the council to dispute the state’s ruling the skatepark didn’t qualify.
“I think you should stand firm that the skatepark is a public park that falls within the 1,000-foot buffer, and that location should probably not be sited,” Plackett said.
The council majority, however, felt otherwise, with members John Lynn, Randy Scott, Dan Overton (who made the initial motion), Broadbent and Jackie Farra voting both for the resolution and for a follow-up measure to officially remove the moratorium.
Kunkel, the license holder, said there would be no residential units above the proposed business, which would use the apartments over the location for employees and offices. Signs, he added, are regulated and must be no larger than 1,660 square inches.
“Children walking by will never know what we are,” Kunkel said. The sign will say REC 21. “That’s it… . It’s a very clean operation.”
Schroeder acknowledged he was still confused about the issue of what was considered a park and voted against both measures. Hill, while chastising the Planning Commission for its lack of a clear recommendation, also cited the issues with the buffer definitions used by the state in her opposition.
“This was the beginnings of a city park that was to be expanded upon in the future,” Hill said of the plans for the skatepark, which is the city’s newest park. “If you vote to allow this (marijuana business) where it is, then why do we have a plan at all for the city? … I’m not ready to vote on this.”
Hill urged further consideration of the options initially laid out in the resolution, and that the council “not be pushed because somebody wants to open a business before we are ready to open a business.”
Lynn said he, too, voted against the initiative but his 17 years in public office has given him a perspective that pushed him to fulfill the will of the voters. “When the public asks for something, as they did in the state, the county and the city, when they said yes to recreational marijuana, my responsibility then is to try to make it work for all the people the best that we can.” he said.
After the vote, Kunkel said he was relieved and hadn’t known what to expect from the proceedings.
“This means we can go to work now,” said Kunkel who already operates Have a Heart medical marijuana clinics in the Seattle area.