OURAY - A divided Ouray City Council has approved on second reading an ordinance declaring a temporary moratorium on private clubs for the consumption of marijuana within the City of Ouray. The ordinance goes into effect on April 6.
Despite apparent lack of interest at the public level, with only one citizen – Dave Sullivan – appearing at a Monday, March 4 public hearing to voice his opposition to all manner of marijuana enterprises in Ouray, the moratorium issue sparked a contentious discussion among councilors.
Some asserted that the moratorium was misguided government overreach; others argued it was prudent to prevent potential marijuana enterprises from setting up shop before the state legislature has a chance to determine how best to manage all the provisions of Amendment 64. The new law, passed by Colorado voters in 2012, legalizes recreational marijuana use, cultivation and commercial sale within the state.
Many municipalities across Colorado have elected to enforce a moratorium on private marijuana clubs, thanks to a loophole in Amendment 64.
“Some communities have seen these private clubs open and are concerned about their operation with minimal oversight and management,” City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli noted in a memo in which he recommended council adopt the moratorium. “Once in place, these private clubs will not be subject to future regulations that may be imposed by the City and will operate as non‐conforming businesses.”
So far, no such private clubs for the consumption of marijuana exist in Ouray, but some councilors saw no reason to prohibit them from coming.
Reading from a prepared statement, Councilor Gary Hansen observed that the majority of Colorado voters, the majority of Ouray County voters, and indeed the majority of City of Ouray voters, approved Amendment 64.
“What we need to be doing as a city council is to generate regulations for marijuana businesses, not prop up destructive prohibition,” Hansen stated. “This is clearly the will of the majority of the voters of the City of Ouray. We have wasted time and resources creating this moratorium.”
Councilor John Ferguson concurred, stating that he had researched the vote of Ouray’s electorate regarding Amendment 64, and determined that the amendment passed by a solid majority of about three-fifths in both Precincts 1 and 2, which together encompass the east and west sides of Ouray and extend about five miles north into the county.
“I think the citizens of Ouray clearly do not have a problem with this amendment,” Ferguson said. “I agree we don’t need to be spending our time creating moratoriums. We should be directing staff to create regulations for what is inevitable (i.e. commercial enterprises selling marijuana products in Ouray).”
Councilor Michael Underwood argued the importance of giving city staff time to assimilate pending state regulations without having to worry about potentially nonconforming private clubs being grandfathered in. “In the interest of compromise, allowing the moratorium to exist and expire is not oppressive to an exceeding degree,” he said. “I want to caution council to not overreact, but also not to underact.”
Councilman Richard Kersen, meanwhile, described the specter of commercial marijuana businesses and private clubs on Main Street in Ouray as “ludicrous” and speculated that the majority of Ouray residents would side with him on this matter if it were put to a vote. (In 2010, the majority of Ouray’s electorate voted against permitting medical marijuana enterprises in Ouray).
“It’s hypocritical to say you can have a bar and liquor store on Main Street but not a marijuana store,” Ferguson retorted. “The tide has turned.”
The ordinance enacting a temporary moratorium on private marijuana clubs within the City of Ouray passed by a margin of 3-2 with Hansen and Ferguson opposed.
SHOULD NONPROFITS GET A BREAK?
Council voted 4-1 to deny a request from the Ouray County Historical Society to waive the $375 building permit fee for OCHS’s newly acquired Main Street annex in the Story Block building. Bolstering this request, OCHS president Kevin Chismire appeared before council, pointing out that the town and OCHS enjoy a close and symbiotic relationship, but this was not enough to sway the majority of council to waive the fee.
“From the pragmatic side, we have a consistent stream of requests for variances and free use of this and that, and we have to weigh what feels good versus what is practical,” Councilor Michael Underwood said.
In recent months, council has twice voted to waive user fees for local nonprofit groups to hold events in the Ouray Community Center. This was the first time, however, that a request had been made for a building permit fee to be waived.
In further discussion on the matter of whether to adopt a new fee waiver policy, council grappled with the fact that the Community Center is already heavily subsidized. According to City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli, the facility brings in between $15,000 and $20,000 per year in user fee revenues, but costs $91,000 to maintain.
Council generally agreed that it would be best to continue considering fee waiver requests on a case by case basis, but that representatives from the nonprofit entities requesting a fee waiver must appear in person before council to elucidate their request.
POOL IMPROVEMENT PRIORITIES DEFINED
The Hot Springs Pool Capital Improvement Committee has set forth several priorities for the general scope of improvements that should be undertaken at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. As reported by council committee liaison Michael Underwood, priorities include a larger hot soaking area; more amenities for children – particularly a splash pad; a zero-depth entry area for small children and the infirm; and 50-meter lap lanes. The group is recommending that improvements be incorporated into the existing footprint, rather than starting from scratch with a whole new pool.