Assembly eases Anchorage marijuana setbacks

  • Anchorage Assembly members Amy Demboski and Patrick Flynn consider land use rules for marijuana businesses at a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23. Photo/DJ Summers/AJOC

The Anchorage Assembly freed up more marijuana space for Anchorage on Feb. 23, but further limited the already scarce zones in Chugiak and Eagle River.

The new rules seem a win-win for the two Assembly members it concerned, Amy Demboski and Patrick Flynn.

 The reconsideration holds the intent of the final Assembly land use package passed on Feb. 9 — which was packed with amendments adding additional restrictions to Chugiak and Eagle River — while partially responding to industry panic of overregulation in Anchorage.

The reconsideration concerns setback distances between marijuana businesses and sensitive areas like schools, churches, and child-centered facilities like daycares. These distances will be measured by shortest pedestrian route through the municipality.

The new amended land use package requires that Chugiak and Eagle River marijuana businesses maintain a distance of 1,000 feet from such areas, which now includes residential districts, dedicated parks, and the McDonald Memorial Center.

In Anchorage, rules were somewhat loosened, though the breadth of sensitive areas could prove limiting. Marijuana businesses must maintain the state-mandated 500-foot separation from school, churches, correctional institutions, community centers, recreation centers, playgrounds, public housing, day care centers, and homeless shelters.

Both area’s setback requirements will be measured by the shortest pedestrian route between the front entrance of a marijuana establishment and that of the special use property. This eliminates the “as the crow flies” measurement passed earlier — from property line to property line — which could conceivably have zoned marijuana business out despite being separated from sensitive areas by multi-lane highways or other obstacles.

Atypical for public meetings involving marijuana, the meeting was quick and quiet, with little discussion among Assembly members and no public comment from the industry throng in the audience.

Assembly member Flynn had called for reconsideration on marijuana zoning after noticing inconsistencies between an amendment he passed and those introduced by Assembly member Demboski in an earlier meeting finalizing land use requirements. One of Flynn’s amendments defined the pedestrian route measurement, while Demboski’s — one of 18 she introduced — specified “as the crow flies.”

Industry in Anchorage and community councils in Chugiak and Eagle River had each expressed dissatisfaction with the original ordinance.

Flynn, who plans to have direct stakeholder involvement in the marijuana industry, said he’d received outraged messages from cannabis entrepreneurs saying the original Anchorage rules zoned their planned buildings out overnight. Cannabis business attorney Jana Weltzin said the Assembly opened itself to legal challenge by making the industry “impracticable.”

Marijuana land use is already restricted enough, industry believes, with a limited number of available retail and industrial buildings even by the least restrictive rules. Sara Williams, chief executive officer of Midnight Greenery, said she’d visited 47 retail properties in Anchorage without finding one both properly zoned and with a willing landlord.

One business planner’s building would be just less than 500 feet from the nearest school by shortest pedestrian route, but just more than 500 feet if measured by lot line.

In Chugiak and Eagle River, however, community councils said the rules didn’t go far enough. Largely conservative and with a sizeable bedroom contingent of military workers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the area lobbied Assembly members Bill Starr and Demboski for more restrictive measures.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

02/24/2016 - 1:47pm