Sabrena Combs

Palmer council member Sabrena Combs.

Following the passage of Referendum 20-004 by Palmer voters in October, the City Council voted in favor of two ordinances on Tuesday regulating and zoning marijuana businesses in the city of Palmer. Ordinances 21-003 and 21-004 both passed by the same 4-3 vote.

“We licensed and created the regulations for marijuana businesses in Title 5. Also as a part of the legislation tonight is an amendment to Title 17 which basically is a land use part of the Palmer Municipal Code which allows which districts marijuana would be allowed,” said Community Development Director Brad Hanson. “There’s a lot of nuance, there’s a lot of moving parts with this ordinance. I tried to simplify it as much as I could by putting in the operating regulations so that you understood exactly what happens as far as marijuana, so the city would rely heavily on the state rules and regulations with regard to marijuana.”

Hanson detailed the ordinances that had been before the Planning and Zoning Commission since November. The referendum that passed Palmer voters repealed Title 5 and what was inserted were licensing and regulations for marijuana retail and cultivation facilities. The changes to title 17 detailed the appropriate land use for marijuana businesses. Prior to council discussion, only two members of the public spoke during public hearing with one speaking in favor and one in opposition.

“I was concerned initially when it was allowed but one of my biggest concerns was the geographical dynamic of Palmer is so close and so tight knit. You have courthouses and you have schools and seniors centers and you have a lot of activities where this type of business isn’t necessarily beneficial or fruitful in the overall schemes of children and other criminal activities,” said Heather Orzalli.

Ordinances 21-003 and 21-004 zone marijuana retail facilities in the Central Business District or General Commercial zoning areas, while manufacturing facilities are zoned as agricultural or industrial. Marijuana businesses are not permitted within 500 feet of jails, youth centers, churches, schools, and child care facilities as was added by PNZ.

“We’ve seen that it has had some positive impact economically in other cities and the state has been regulating it pretty well so I appreciate that we are in line with state guidelines far as distances, even with an additional one of child care facilities, I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m excited to see these new businesses and some economic boost to our community,” said Deputy Mayor Sabrena Combs.

Council members submitted four separate amendments on the ordinances, all of which failed by the same 4-3 vote the measures passed on. Each vote passed or failed 4-3 with Mayor Edna DeVries and Councilman Richard Best and Steve Carrington voting in opposition of Deputy Mayor Sabrena Combs, Councilman Brian Daniels and Councilwomen Julie Berberich and Dr. Jill Valerius. Best moved to table Ordinance 21-003 and send it to the Board of Economic Development.

“The process is to have open public discussions and the board of economic development did not take positions on it 18 months ago. They were waiting to have the process ran through and we are partially way through the process. Let’s finish this off. Let’s do it the right way. Let’s be proactive in the governance that we have been elected to do,” said Best. “We don’t’ see what the impact would be. We haven’t had the public discussion at the BED on these matters on the establishment of this code language to try to understand and fully engage the public with the conversation. I get that we don’t want to be restrictive but on the other hand we don’t want to open pandora’s box and completely change the appearance, the feel.”

Following Best’s failed amendment to table 21-003, Carrington moved to add libraries to businesses that must maintain a 500 foot distance from marijuana businesses. Mayor DeVries moved to limit the number of marijuana business licenses to two for the city, per the regulations for population density of alcohol licenses.

“The rules for the liquor licenses and restrictions on the amount of liquor licenses is a regulation from the state and the state didn’t see fit to make the same regulations with marijuana. I agree with councilman Daniels actually that the free market is going to regulate, that the size of the city of Palmer is small as we all know. When we have the restrictions of the schools, the churches, the jail, the youth recreation centers and the child care facilities, again now we’re restricting again how many places are going to be able to operate within the city. I just don’t see where we need to restrict this any more,” said Berberich. “We have watched what happened in these other cities and saw it was just fine as a matter of fact it was an economic boon to these towns and now I think it’s time for the city of Palmer to join the rest of these towns and pass this.”

Under Ordinances 21-003 and 21-004, marijuana retail facilities would only be permitted to have three signs, two of which must be in the window. The city would remit it’s own sales taxes form marijuana businesses and on-site consumption is not a permitted use. Council members expressed concerns with felons from other states receiving business licenses, the disposal of waste, signage and the local option.

“That was the process that was employed by the voters exercising their right of direct democracy to place that on the ballot, to allow for the establishment of marijuana facilities within the city and this ordinance regulates them to be placed in certain areas because the city did not give up it’s zoning authority to regulate those sorts of things,” said City Attorney Michael Gatti. “The local option issue you see in state law is really not applicable to an organized municipality such as a city or borough.”

In Alaska, the Fairbanks North Star Borough is the only municipality that placed further limitations on businesses. On Ordinance 21-004, Carrington moved to restrict marijuana retail facilities from being located in the Central Business District.

“There’s a lot of discussion from members of this council about less government and less overreach and this is definitely a lot more government and overreach and we’re trying to lmilt these things when the state has clearly laid out standard rules across the state that seem to be working, so this is a waste of time,” said Deputy Mayor Combs.

With the passage of 21-003 and 21-004 following the vote of Palmer residents last October, marijuana retail facilities and cultivation facilities will now be permitted in the city of Palmer.

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