Weed rule leads to ‘unintended consequences’

In a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Cannon Beach City Council decided retailers that sell marijuana cannot occupy buildings that house both businesses and residences.

CANNON BEACH — In a 3-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday affirmed an ordinance that forbids marijuana retailers from moving into buildings that house both residences and businesses.

The issue came up after Matt Ennis, a resident at 140 S. Hemlock, told city councilors at a July meeting that his landlord planned to evict him to rent the commercial space under him to marijuana retailer Five Zero Trees.

Changing the ordinance would have allowed marijuana stores to apply for permits in buildings that also have residences, a setup that is common in downtown Cannon Beach.

The vote ensures that future applications from marijuana retailers will not be considered at mixed-use locations, which follows the community’s desire to keep marijuana out of residential areas. The vote also means the landlord will likely evict the three tenants living at 140 S. Hemlock St. to comply with the ordinance and allow Five Zero Trees to rent the commercial space below.

Ennis and the other two tenants were not immediately available for comment.

“This was a case of unintended consequences,” City Councilor Mike Benefield said after the meeting.

If the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and business licenses are approved, Five Zero Trees would be one of three marijuana dispensaries that have applied to operate in Cannon Beach since the community narrowly defeated a retail cannabis prohibition at the polls in November.

City Planner Mark Barnes said the mixed-use ordinance was based on one crafted by the League of Oregon Cities last year. Barnes said when he approved the land use compatibility statement in November he wasn’t aware the owner of the property, Max Ritchie, also had tenants.

“When I found out a resident was living there, I notified the owner and said I couldn’t approve the marijuana shop business license with residents,” Barnes said. Ritchie asked if evicting his tenants would make his property compliant, and Barnes said it would.

Ritchie declined to comment on the ordinance or the evictions.

Jason Cain, co-partner of Five Zero Trees, said the company also had no comment because they have not been involved in communications between Ritchie and the city.

The idea to change the ordinance came from the fear that landlords with mixed-use properties would continue to evict tenants to allow marijuana retailers to rent their commercial spaces for a higher price than tenants can pay.

Losing apartment space would contribute to a growing affordable housing crisis, City Councilor George Vetter said.

“If we had considered this when we were passing the ordinance, we wouldn’t have put this rule in there because it would exclude so many housing options,” said Vetter, who voted for changing the ordinance.

But Benefield and Councilor Nancy McCarthy, who voted to keep it, disagree with this logic.

“If you deny applications from dispensaries in the first place for mixed-use facilities, then you can’t have a dispensary,” McCarthy said. “If we changed the ordinance, it would open up a huge can of worms for marijuana stores to open everywhere.”

Benefield said changing the ordinance would be contradictory to keeping residential areas marijuana-free, which was a priority to voters when councilors passed the ordinance.

“It’s always a fight between free enterprise and regulation,” Benefield said. “But I’m not sure how amending this ordinance would keep with the character of Cannon Beach.”

What “the character of Cannon Beach” looks like, however is subjective.

“I’ve talked to business owners from other communities, and I still haven’t spoken with anyone who said these stores bring a negative impact,” Vetter said. “This is fear of the unknown as much as anything.”

For Cannon Beach resident David Frei, it is not about challenging the introduction of marijuana into town.

“That’s already been voted in. The only thing we can challenge now is where it is located,” Frei said.

Frei is spearheading an effort on behalf of 12 condo owners and four businesses that are a part of the Ecola Square Homeowners Association to challenge the location of Five Zero Trees.

Ecola Square is directly across the street from the planned Five Zero Trees store. Frei and other residents came out against the ordinance change Tuesday, arguing the best way to keep tenants in their apartments is by denying cannabis applications in the first place.

While the vote ended in the homeowner association’s favor, Frei said they will fight having Five Zero Trees there at all — mixed use or not. He argues that even though the building is zoned for commercial, the area around it is residential, containing 37 homes, compared to eight businesses.

Having a business permitted to stay open until 10 p.m. when most close around 5 p.m., the effect on property values and the increase in parking issues are other factors Frei argues would disrupt an otherwise quiet neighborhood.

But the main point of contention, Frei said, is the feeling that homeowners in the area never got a chance for public comment to communicate these issues in the first place.

“Overall, locations for these businesses need to be sensitive to the area around them, and this block really is a residential area,” Frei said.

Because issuing land use compatibility statements and building permits are administrative decisions, legally there is nothing requiring the city to seek public comment. But Frei argues that even if it isn’t required, it is in the city’s comprehensive plan to include citizens on decisions like these.

“Hopefully from us challenging this we can help develop reasonable limits and have our voices heard earlier in the process,” Frei said.

If Five Zero Trees passes city building inspections and obtains its licenses, the dispensary still plans on opening this year.

“We are very excited to come into the community. We are really looking forward to getting involved and bringing jobs to the area,” Cain said.

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