Creek Council Okays Marijuana Zoning Law; Gives Thumbs-up to Mega Housing Development

Elected leaders Call Time-out for New Casino Sign Displays

Rick Langenberg

Even with a large crowd and a fairly ambitious agenda, the Cripple Creek City Council promptly wrestled with the hot button subjects of marijuana zoning,  housing development and casino signs last week in  near record speed.

More specifically, the council okayed their first official pro-cannabis ordinance, outlining where future cannabis shops can be located and what types of marijuana business uses can occur. At the same time, the council signaled the green light in a more official manner for the biggest housing project proposed in recent history:  a 519-unit apartment development in the south part of town.

And to further top off the finalization of a flurry of big ticket items, the council opted to declare a temporary emergency by enacting a  moratorium on new exterior signs in the downtown area. This action was initiated by concerns over the possibility of bolder, glitzier sign displays that could clash with the town’s historic character and possibly impact its designation as a national landmark status. The council wanted time to review its current historic preservation rules pertaining to signs and then make necessary changes  and adjustments.

At first glance,  many observers predicted a marathon session, as the council had a pretty hefty list of issues, with an agenda packet that exceeded 100 pages.

These predictions were quickly shattered as the council concluded its business in less than an hour.

In fact, the only matter that slowed down the council’s prompt momentum at their April 19 session dealt with a housing consultant contract, with most elected leaders expressing reservations that this  could open the door for another study that rendered a familiar conclusion: Cripple Creek has a housing shortage.

“We have been down this road before,” said Councilman  Bruce Brown, the town’s former mayor for 10-plus years, in discussing this forthcoming project. He noted that the town has done its fair share of housing studies and didn’t want to continue on the same path of studying this issue to death and spending money on the issuing of another document that just gathered dust.

Councilman Tom Litherland agreed, and questioned the feasibility of establishing a housing authority for town the size of Cripple Creek

But Special Projects Director Jeff Mosher cited this study, to be implemented by the Affordable Housing  Consultants,  Inc. group based in Denver, would outline in detail how the town can create more workforce housing developments and how to manage these efforts.  He described this step as establishing a mini-government-like entity to deal with the specifics of how to generate more housing.  He stated that a variety of solutions could be explored, such as forming a housing authority, land trust or land bank. “It is a good move for us,” said Mosher.

After a brief discussion, and due to the fact that this project was supported mostly by grants, with a just a small match of close to $15,000 for the first phase by the city,  the council gave their approval. But at the same time, several elected leaders indicated they remained skeptical about this project.

Pot, Housing and Signs

As far as the big issue items, including  retail pot and the latest mega housing project development, elected leaders okayed these plans with virtually no discussion or debate.

A new marijuana ordinance, the first of possibly four new cannabis-related laws, represents the first attempt to set the groundwork for making retail cannabis a reality in Cripple Creek. Last November, voters overwhelmingly gave the okay for opening the door for  marijuana-related businesses on a limited basis.

Currently, Cripple Creek has a moratorium on accepting new marijuana licenses, until it finalizes their rules and procedures. This moratorium is slated to end in early June.

Last week, attorney Erin  Smith stated that it plans to adopt several new marijuana ordinances on an emergency level to hit the pedal on this issue, so the city can start generating marijuana-related revenue. Most of the marijuana zoning ordinance, which mostly deals with where these businesses can be located, parallels what was proposed in an earlier work session.

Under the planned cannabis rules, marijuana shops would be permitted in the business and commercial areas, such as C-1 and C-2 zones, on a conditional use basis. Initially, the city’s marijuana regulations would only permit a small number or retail and  medicinal shops.  It would not permit cultivation and manufacturing facilities or cannabis clubs. These other potential uses, identified in the initial citizens’ pro-marijuana initiative, could be added at a later date.

The ordinance also stipulates the space limits from a school, church, park or public building.

The council granted the initial reading of this ordinance with no objections. No public comment was rendered on this issue.

The topic of potential marijuana rules generated considerable discussion in a recent meeting, attended by two  officials from the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. City officials explored the rules established by a slew of Colorado communities that currently permit marijuana businesses.

The council with no hesitation also okayed a resolution that gave the green light  for the Mountain Meadows Apartments planned unit development proposal.  The group wants to develop 519 units, consisting of mostly 1 and two-bedroom units, in two phases. If everything proceeds as planned, the project could break ground this fall.

The project, which received rave reviews at a previous meeting when the concept plans were outlined, is aimed at addressing the city’s lack of workforce housing. The main brainchild behind the effort is property owner and developer Hayden Radar.

The council last week also wanted to delay the approval of any more sign displays. With the bombardment of new projects and more resort-like hotels and amenities, leaders and city staffers have gotten nervous over more modern, electronic signs that may not mesh with the town’s historic period of significance.

Recently, the council, rejected the recommendation of the historic preservation commission, and refused to grant a certificate of appropriateness for a  new planned electronic sign for Century casino. The council  didn’t like the proposed 1950s art deco look and asked  Century representatives to come up with a design that fit in better with the town’s historic character.

Future signs could become a touchy subject as a number of casinos are doing more modern lodging additions and want to attract customers in a bolder manner as the town takes a bid towards becoming more of a destination area.

City leaders are concerned about setting the stage for a competitive sign battle.

Some casino representatives, though, say more noticeable signs are part of the town’s growth as it enters the next stage of development.