PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough Assembly again voted to postpone the most controversial issue before the body on Tuesday, after a motion from Assemblyman Tim Hale to postpone Ordinance 21-017 indefinitely with direction to return as two separate ordinances.
More than a dozen members of the public spoke, the majority of whom were marijuana cultivation business owners and opposed the four separate measures included in OR 21-017.
The ordinance was initially sponsored by Assemblyman Jesse Sumner and would have modified hours of operation for retail facilities, address parking and land use concerns for on-site consumption, make cultivation facilities an administrative permit and remove the exemption for limited cultivation facilities under 500 square feet. On-site consumption was legalized by the state of Alaska in 2018 as an endorsement on a retail facility license.
“What staff did is go look at the requirements that they have, that are fairly rigorous, looked at what sort of land use impacts might be associated with on site consumption that are not addressed by state law and the things that we came up with was potential for additional parking. So we have more robust parking standards because you’re looking at more prolonged stays as well as potentially extra patronage to these facilities. We require a loitering plan because you’re dealing with people that likely are going to be intoxicated and so you have some of the same impacts that say bars might have,” said Borough Planning Director Alex Strawn.
After discussion by the Planning Committee, the ordinance that passed did not carry the support of the committee on every issue.
“The planning commission really didn’t address those standards specifically.They actually had sort of a blanket statement sort of opposing the borough allowing on site consumption in the borough,” said Strawn. “The logic behind that being that cultivation facilities have very little land use impact as far as they don’t produce a lot of traffic, they don’t have garish signage, they don’t have a lot of noise associated with them. The big land use impact they have is emission of odor and the borough does not specifically regulate that, but we have instituted a 100 foot setback from lot lines which is sort of an inherent protection from odor.”
Since legalization of on-site consumption in 2018, there have been no applications by Mat-Su Valley marijuana retail facilities to become an on-site consumption facility. Sarah Lorimer was one of among nearly a dozen marijuana retail facility owners who asked the Assembly to split the ordinances into two separate ordinances with one to address retail issues and another for cultivation facility issues.
“A lot of these are family run businesses. This is their entry point into starting a cultivation business. This setback will greatly affect their opportunity to do that,” said Lorimer. “I have personally ran my own business for 15 years and have now got into the marijuana space because of the benefits we’ve seen that its actually making in the community. I’m very involved in the community, I’m very involved with Palmer, I’m very involved with everybody that’s around and we look to continue to do that and I think requiring these setbacks, I’d like to ust see the ordinance broke into two different pieces just like everyone else has said. I’m not against either one, but I think more discussion is necessary in regards to the on site consumption.”
Following more than a half hour of public testimony on Ordinance 21-017, the Assembly began with discussion from Sumner, who sponsored the bill. Sumner disagreed with many of the cultivation business owners who spoke.
“I think this actually protects the industry. It’s not going to shut down anybody that is in operation or even anybody that has initiated their application by Feb. 2 so it’s not true that this is shutting anybody down. It is true that it would prevent a new limited cultivation facility within 1,000 feet of school grounds and there will be certain setbacks, but I think long run that’s actually going to protect the industry as a whole.”
Sumner said that he took into consideration communication with constituents and two separate community councils who spoke to him about the issues. Deputy Mayor Tam Boeve asked Borough Attorney Nick Spiropolous about Sumner’s claim that the ordinance would protect marijuana businesses from future Assembly action.
“If something changed and the voters of the Mat-Su Borough decided we don’t want marijuana anymore and there is the local option to do that, everyone’s permits go away. There is no grandfather permits for alcohol or marijuana because of the nature of the way the laws are written,” said Spiropolous. “There is a degree of protection put into the code because it would require an Assembly ordinance then to then remove that form the code rather than some kind of administrative action. Again it all goes out the window if voters take up the issue.”
After Hale’s motion to postpone the ordinance indefinitely and reintroduce it as two separate ordinances, Sumner objected, as he has previously done when ordinances as postponed rather than voted up or down. Deputy Mayor Tam Boeve and Assembly members Hale, Nowers and Yundt voted in favor of postponement. Sumner was joined by Assemblymen McKee and Tew in voting against Hale’s motion.
“I object. I would like to have a vote on the main motion rather than always delaying and putting off things. We could reject this and it could be brought back on separate things but I want a vote on the main motion,” said Sumner.”
During his staff report, Strawn noted that the ordinance carried a fiscal note with a request for another position to assist with permitting and warned that if someone was not hired, permitting times for other matters may increase with the extra workload. After Hale’s motion to postpone passed, Sumner said that he would not sponsor the legislation as two separate pieces. Mayor Vern Halter directed Hale to take up the effort for reintroduction.
“I’ve said this in the past and I’m not picking on anybody but a rushed government is a failed government so we’ve heard a lot of valid arguments tonight. I could see a reason why to postpone this,” said Yundt.