Solvang will look for ways to "prioritize the process" of looking at applications for medical marijuana dispensaries after two applicants were rejected for failing to provide landowner consent in a limited commercial area.
The City Council adopted in August the ordinance regulating cannabis and allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within the C3 zone - an area primarily on the south side of Highway 246 across from Skytt Mesa Drive.
In October, the council adopted a resolution allowing one medical dispensary in the city. At Monday’s meeting councilors agreed that they wanted to keep the number of dispensaries at one.
The issue arose after the city received three applications earlier this year, but rejected two because they failed to provide landowner approval.
There are only two landowners within the C3 zone and according to city documents, there is only one property available for applicants because one of the two properties in the zone “did not entertain a medical cannabis dispensary use.”
Raza Lawrence, an attorney for Fristaden Wellness, one of the marijuana businesses that applied, said having only two property owners within the allowed zone was too restrictive.
“Our position is the city has a lot of leeway in terms of zoning issues but there are certain legal binds and restrictions on the zoning and if it becomes so narrow that there’s only one property that’s essentially delegating authority to that property owner to select who it is that will receive the license,” he said.
Councilor Karen Waite said she was initially surprised that the topic was on the council agenda, because two of the businesses hadn’t secured landowner approval. She was in favor of keeping the ordinance as is.
“When it comes down to having attorneys for organizations and companies come and stand in front of us and speak, stating that they think that a landowner or a business owner should not be able to make their own decision as to who they can rent or lease to, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Waite said.
Councilor Daniel Johnson said he was concerned that the council had created a monopoly.
“I don’t think it’s right to provide the landowners the last say on where a business should be conducted, so I do think it needs to be addressed,” Johnson said.
Councilor Robert Clarke, who was on the planning commission when the C3 zone was chosen, said it was the last location that made sense.
“I wish this whole thing with pot would go away because I can’t stand it. And if you really want to you can drive to Lompoc between the hours of 10 and 8 p.m. and buy pot on Ocean Avenue just by showing your driver’s license. The whole medical crap I don’t get because you don’t need a prescription to buy pot anymore in the state,” Clark said.
During public comment, Gay Infanti said the planning commission chose the C3 zone because marijuana businesses can’t be near children.
“The C3 zone is the only zone that is far enough away from residences where children spend the most time,” Infanti said.
She added that marijuana delivery is allowed in the city, so medical patients aren’t being denied cannabis.
Solvang resident Aaron Peterson asked councilors to keep the ordinance as is.
He said, “The C3 is not one property, there’s two properties and just because one landlord doesn’t wish to lease that could lease it later. Maybe somebody could go in and change their zone from a C2 to C3.
“There’s no urgency in this. And please don’t just, because somebody’s threatening a lawsuit or threatening veiled threats of lawsuits. Don’t buy into that and panic over it. Just take a breath.”
Mayor Ryan Toussaint said he thought the council was going to be able to go through a vetting process.
“In this here it’s totally reverse, we don’t get those interviews or the vetting process from the council,” he said.
Toussaint said there should be an application process, after which the qualified candidate is delivered to the property owner.
City Attorney Dave Fleishman said other cities require landowner consent as part of the application process, because everyone would be wasting their time and money if they didn’t have a landlord locked down. He also said it would be difficult for staff to come up with a security plan for a nonexistent or proposed location.
“It’s not the landowner consent that’s the problem, it’s the land,” Fleishman said.
He said there are three ways in which the council can amend the process: “You can change the ordinance, you can change the resolution, you can change the application process.”
Fleishman said looking at other areas in the city where a dispensary could be located would be the easiest option.
But he said city staff couldn’t provide more input than the planning commission would on that front.
Fleishman said, “But again, going back to the zones that you’re looking at. There’s not a lot that we need to do on that as staff.
“You all are going to make the decision of whether or not you want it somewhere other than in the C3 zone. You all are going to make the decision very quickly one way or another as to whether or not you want more than one.”
Mayor Toussaint made a motion to direct staff to evaluate ways to prioritize the process, pursue looking at other zones and reevaluate the process given the feedback at the meeting.
The motion passed unanimously.
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