When navigating murky waters, it’s good to have a map. One such chart of Seattle produced by the Department of Planning and Development as part of the process to figure just how, exactly, the state will regulate commercial cannabis in Seattle following I-502’s approval is making its way around inboxes and social networks. It shows just how restricted the Seattle’s “Cannabis Zoning Restrictions” could be. The interested and the entrepreneurial of First Hill, Capitol Hill and the Central District will also notice the area’s single zone of commercial marijuana opportunity — 23rd and Union.
“I was kinda hoping for Little Amsterdam,” real estate investor and business owner Ian Eisenberg tells CHS — only partly joking — about potential names for the business district that could take shape around the Central District’s 23rd and Union.
Eisenberg, who has emerged as a major landholder at the intersection and has plans for more development, said he hasn’t seriously started working on building a cannabis economy at the corner but he’s definitely been sharing the map around the neighborhood.
The city’s planning process around cannabis zoning started last year to deal with the growing effort around medical marijuana and hasn’t yet expanded to deal with the implications of a new commercial market for the drug.
“The City currently regulates medical cannabis the way we regulate any other business,” a DPD spokesperson tells us about the legislation currently being worked on. “We are proposing some clarifications to our current rules though to account for both medical and recreational cannabis operations.”
For DPD, this is mostly about limiting the size of the business in smaller commercial zones and historic areas of Seattle. But it also could be the groundwork used to implement I-502 on an operational basis in the city:
The City of Seattle is proposing to implement zoning restrictions pertaining to the growing, processing, and dispensing of cannabis in certain zones within the city for the purpose of limiting the impact of larger-scale cannabis-related activity.
The ordinance would limit the size of operations that grow, process, or dispense cannabis in zones with a predominately residential or historic character to a single collective garden. The zones include Single-Family, Multifamily, Pioneer Square Mixed, International District Mixed, International District Residential, Pike Place Mixed, Harborfront, and Neighborhood
Commercial 1. In these zones, the growing, processing, or dispensing of cannabis in any business establishment or dwelling unit would be limited to:
45 cannabis plants;
72 ounces of useable cannabis; and
an amount of cannabis product that could reasonably be produced with 72 ounces of useable cannabis.
The proposed ordinance would also implement a size limit for indoor agricultural operations in industrial areas and make a minor change to clarify the intent of existing allowances for certain agricultural uses in industrial areas.
City Council’s Sally Clark and Nick Licata who are in the midst of a road show around the city to meet with district councils about the proposals are quick to clarify that they are focusing only on medical marijuana even as DPD looks ahead.
Clark says her meeting with the Central District Council went very much like the rest of the sessions — “concern about security precautions, concern about whether medical dispensaries can be good neighbors, and concern about possible impacts from over-concentration in areas.”
“Passage of 502 made our community conversations more complex,” she writes. “We decided to keep moving forward with zoning regs for medical dispensaries and not wait to see how quickly the state moves on regs for growing, processing and recreational sale.”
Clark said that Licata and Council staff have met with Washington Liquor Control Board representatives to begin discussions on recreational sales regulations.
The DPD map shows how the pieces *could* fit together — a look at the way things could work without more significant changes by the state or City Council. The Stranger’s Dominic Holden first published the document last Friday.
The map overlays federal, state and city boundaries that planners believe would exclude the presence of liquor board-licensed commercial marijuana stores. Once the required buffers are placed around everything from schools and libraries to community centers and parks, central Seattle ends up mostly a commercial cannabis-free zone. The exception is 23rd and Union.
“I’m not opposed to it — I’d be very open to it,” Eisenberg said of the potential that commercial space in the neighborhood could be part of Seattle’s first forays into legal commercial pot. But, Eisenberg said, while he sees the potential opportunity in being one of the few places in the Seattle to buy legal marijuana, like others in the community he’s also worried that the constricted zoning could put too much pressure on an area like 23rd and Union though it’s possible that mobile services might relieve some of that pressure.
There is also some historical irony in the potential for a “drug market” to develop at 23rd and Union. Seattle Police spent years developing a “Drug Market Initiative” that targeted the area to eliminate illegal drug dealing from the neighborhood.
The zoning change legislative process is slated to play out early this year with City Council. For now, the DPD proposals are focused on restrictions around size and Clark and Licata are keeping the discussion limited to medical use. Whether there is stomach on the Council to take on a much heavier load of trying to expand Seattle’s commercial zones isn’t yet clear. The alternative will need to be concerted effort to protect the areas where the stores can exist.
In the meantime, it might be time to start thinking of non-legislative protections for the rare resource that 23rd and Union might represent. More development is coming to the area — Capitol Hill Housing is planning this mixed-use project for the area now. Eisenberg and others could find themselves in the peculiar place of trying to keep out anything that could jeopardize the zoning.
It could be a heavy burden.
“[If] we are to be the only designated retail marijuana area in Seattle, we have a responsibility to make sure it is handled in the most respectful manner possible,” Eisenberg writes. “Legal recreational marijuana is a new idea to Seattle, if not the world. If DPD’s analysis of legal areas is correct, the CD will have a major spotlight on how it deals with the situation. It could be a terrific opportunity for the CD to showcase itself to the city in a positive light.”
It could also be a major opportunity. If it works out, we know a bakery that might be looking for a home.