Future Fields of Reefer Green in Cripple Creek!

Gaming Town Invaded by Questions in Welcoming New Marijuana Industry

Rick Langenberg

Cripple Creek voters last November overwhelmingly gave the go-ahead for opening their doors to the sale of retail marijuana.

Now, the real work begins for city elected leaders, who must wrestle with a plethora of related issues  and a bombardment of questions, such as who will get these cannabis licenses and where will the future pot shops be located.

In addition, some are wondering if current business owners can add marijuana sales to their current operations, and can cannabis outlets be part of a future mixed-use commercial and housing development. And more importantly, what types of marijuana uses will be permitted locally.

These were just a few of the issues highlighted during the council’s first public workshop, following the approval of legal cannabis and the enactment of a 180-day moratorium on issuing licenses.

The meeting, held last week in the council chambers, featured a strong turnout, with some attendees interested in getting involved in the cannabis operations and citizens wanting to know more about the impacts.

Cripple Creek has officially joined a host of nearby mountain communities that have legalized retail marijuana on a limited basis, such as Manitou Springs, Central City, Salida, Alma and Palmer Lake.

City Administrator Frank Salvato wasn’t hesitant to give the council their homework assignments, with his main focus on where these businesses should be located.

Salvato also teamed up last week with officials from the state and other consultants who have researched pro-marijuana plans adopted by other comparable towns.

At the same time, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Litherland echoed the strong sentiment of many residents, who don’t want these future shops in local neighborhoods or near the school. “They would prefer these shops be as far away from the schools as possible,” said Litherland.

This sentiment was favored by city officials, who made it clear these future shops would not be located in residential neighborhoods.

One conclusion was rendered from last week’s workshop: The city council has their work cut for itself to get all the rules in place, prior to the expiration of a six-month moratorium.

“The main issue you need to decide is where you want to put all of the (marijuana )shops),” said Salvato.  In fact, of all the cannabis-related questions greeting the council, he cited zoning as the number one priority. “Zoning is the most important,” said the city administrator. “Zoning can take three or more months,” he added with all the public notice requirements.

As for initial suggestions, Salvato threw out the idea of allowing marijuana business in the commercial zones of the city, and possibly in business areas under conditional use permit restrictions. This would permit comments from nearby property owners, noted the city administrator.

The future pot businesses must meet the current state guidelines, which provide space limits from schools and churches.

At last week’s meeting, a state official, Casey Hilton, confirmed that a minimum distance of 1,000 feet has been established.

Also, a recently hired temporary city  employee,  Katie Dieth, said the city has been reviewing marijuana ordinances okayed by the cities of Manitou Springs, Alma, Central City and Salida.

“We want to pick and choose,” said Dieth, in describing their intent to study the best options for Cripple Creek. One of the dicey questions for Cripple Creek in preparing for a pro-marijuana environment, is the amount of revenue it could generate from this industry. Cripple Creek could see some economic benefits, with the strong  denial of a pro-marijuana movement in Colorado Springs. At the same time, the state marijuana industry is struggling, with prices of reefer on the decline.

Karen Zoeller, a long-time resident, asked the council about how many marijuana business licenses can be issued.

This has been a lingering question since the citizens okayed the pro-marijuana initiative, with a variety of opinions issued.

According to Salvato and city attorney Erin Smith, the new voter-approved proposition allows for a limit of two licenses per marijuana use. That said, Smith advised the council that it can limit the amount of uses allowed, and doesn’t have to follow the citizens’ proposed ordinance completely, which outlines a huge lineup of potential marijuana operations, including a hospitality hub or grow center

A few potential marijuana business entrepreneurs last week raised a few questions and asked about the potential rules. One person asked if current business owners could add marijuana retail to their operations. Although not making a definite ruling on this, Smith expressed caution about this possibility, with all of the rules outlining marijuana businesses.

Another representative of a future development project asked about including marijuana shops in  future mixed-use housing and commercial developments.

Housing Incentives

In another issue of concern, the council last week also had a workshop on its current policy of offering water and sewer tap fee waivers for housing projects that meet the desire to pursue more workforce housing

Recently, a few council members have cited problems with offering huge incentives for projects that don’t necessarily help the town in its effort to offer more workforce housing.

Salvato had proposed new rules that would possibly require down-payments  and then would reimburse developers if their project meets certain guidelines.

Following a brief discussion, the council agreed to continue with their current pro-development incentive policy.

But nearly all the council members agreed that more discussion was needed on the merits of individual projects they reviewed, and that the leaders might not be so willing to offer a 100 percent waiver on tap fees. This has been the practice of elected leaders in their review of a spree of housing projects, since they offered a pro-development incentive package for a limited period, as a way to encourage more housing projects in Cripple Creek.

“We don’t want to give away the farm. I don’t want to see us locked into something,” said Councilwoman Melissa Trenary.

“We need all levels of housing,” noted Salvato. “Infrastructure is the problem,” commented Mayor Milford Ashworth.

The council agreed to pursue its current status quo pro-incentive policy, with the caveat that it evaluate individual requests in more detail.