A series of zoning changes that could increase the number of allowable pot retailers on Capitol Hill took a pass through the City Council’s planning committee Tuesday. Under the measure proposed by Mayor Ed Murray as part of a wider set of changes to the city’s marijuana rules, pot shops could open closer to parks and libraries by cutting in half the current 1,000 foot buffer rule. On Capitol Hill, that seems to open up the possibility for I-502 retail locations on or near Broadway, E Olive Way, E Madison, and 15th Ave, according to an unofficial map (PDF) provided by the Mayor’s Office.
The 1,000-foot buffers were initially passed in 2012 as a part of I-502. This summer, state legislators passed a bill that allowed significantly more local authority over pot zoning. Ultimately, Murray and pot business owners agree that recreational and medical marijuana should be evenly available across Seattle, but differ on the number and concentration of shops.
During public comments, planning committee members heard mostly from I-502 business owners and supporters who favored the zoning changes, but wanted Council members to go even further in reducing the “as the crow flies” buffer zones. Council members discussed the possibility of bringing the buffer down to 250 feet, while some commenters advocated for the state minimum of 100 feet.
“We have a black market that we’ve got to get rid of, and the way to do that is to get stores into our densest neighborhoods,” said Chris Cody, a medical shop owner and member of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards & Ethics.
Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg said he supported reducing buffer zones but urged Council members to wait for the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to release a study on the demand for marijuana statewide. However, Murray policy advisor David Mendoza told the planning committee it should act quickly so medical shops seeking recreational permits wouldn’t be left in limbo when trying to determine if they meet zoning rules.
Ray Angel, the longtime owner of Angel’s Shoe Repair, also spoke in favor of the zoning changes. Angel found himself in the middle of the 15 Ave pot drama that has played out over the past year when he lost his lease to an I-502 permit lottery winner this summer.
After the signs for Ruckus (formerly known as Tok) went up last month at 15th and E Republican, Angel told committee members he was a “victim of the first pursuit of marijuana stores” in Seattle. In the meantime, Angel is waiting to reopen his cobbler business inside an Eisenberg-owned building across the street. UPDATE: The free play arcade that had popped-up in Eisenberg’s building has now been cleared out. A check of city permits reveal that construction plans are in motion to add a second level to the building that was home to a longtime veterinary clinic. CHS reported this summer that a project from Full Tilt ice cream is lined up to make its home in a portion of the building.
On the medical side, Mendoza said around 60 Seattle shops have closed voluntarily since the State Legislature passed new rules to bring the largely unregulated medical system in line with the highly regulated recreational one. That leaves around 50 medical shops in Seattle that could be licensed under I-502. If City Council members pass the 500 foot buffer option, roughly half of the medical shops could be licensed in their current location while the other half would need to move.
Murray’s rule would also prevent the clustering of pot shops on a single block by requiring a 500 foot buffer between pot retailers. Even though the buffer would not effect current shops, several commenters, including Eisenberg, said they opposed the rule and favored an option to allow two retailers within a 1,000-foot radius.
Black market pot delivery services continue to be a thorn in the side of I-502 retailers and city and state regulators. Mendoza said the City would be working “very soon” to shut them down.
During the meeting, City staffers gave a rundown of the current pot business landscape in Seattle:
- 19 retail locations now open
- 4 retail locations pending
- 32 fully licensed producer/processors
- 73 pending producer/processors
- 118 storefronts (August 2015)
- 49 storefronts with business licenses issued before January 1, 2013
- 69 storefronts without business licenses or issues on or after January 1, 2013
- 4 delivery services with business licenses
The committee did not vote on the measure and will take up the issue in a future meeting.
City Council Notes
Here are more of the issues the Seattle City Council is talking about this week. If you see something you like, or something you don’t, you can find contact information for council members at seattle.gov/council.
- Bigger Country Doctor OK’d: The council’s planning committee approved a bill Tuesday that will open the way for Country Doctor’s planned 19th Ave E expansion. The legislation allows exceptions to the current size restriction on medical uses within Neighborhood Commercial 1 zoned areas of the city. 19th Ave E, for example.
- Comcast cares: Wednesday, the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee will take up a new 10-year deal “to enter into a renewed Cable Television Franchise Agreement with Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC.” You can learn more about the $8 million deal here (PDF).
- Bike rules: Meanwhile, the safety committee will also take up some proposed changes (PDF) to Seattle’s traffic laws including adding “a definition of electric-assisted” bikes and allowing a “bicycle or moped to disregard a traffic control light that fails to activate because of weight of the bicycle or moped.” Good rule.
- Low impact development: Thursday afternoon, the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee will discuss a slate of legislation to help encourage “low impact development” in the city including eliminating rules that create barriers to adding elements like “bioretention, rain gardens, preservation of native vegetation” and changing sidewalk codes to minimize “impervious surfaces” and “loss of vegetation.”
- Gender Pay Equity: Tuesday, the Gender Pay Equity Committee approved “a resolution re-affirming the City’s commitment to gender pay equity and expressing the City’s intent to join 100% Talent, a regional Gender Pay Equity Initiative, as a founding member, and to help implement the Initiative as a means to strengthen gender pay equity in Seattle and the region.” The resolution supports the 100% Talent initiative, a program from the The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber and Women’s Funding Alliance.
- REDI? Seattle is moving forward with legislation to be part of a Regional Equitable Development Initiative Fund to create a pool of “resources” that will be used to “secure land near existing or planned high-capacity transit.” The plan calls for a $21 million pool including $1 million from Seattle.