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Anchorage Assembly to re-vote on marijuana regulations next week

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 17, 2016

When it comes to setting up a pot business in Anchorage, the way its distance is measured from a school can make a big difference in whether the business is allowed or not.

At its most recent meeting, amid a flurry of amendments to land use regulations, the Anchorage Assembly passed conflicting rules for the measurement method. One amendment, from Assemblymembers Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, specified that distances would be measured "as the crow flies" -- from the edge of a marijuana business to the lot line of a protected area -- instead of by pedestrian routes, which could be more circuitous.

Industry members immediately seized on the straight line, more restrictive approach, saying it would rule out many more prospective business locations than the circuitous routes that people actually walk.

During the same meeting, however, the Assembly approved setting the required separation distance between pot businesses and schools, churches and other protected uses at 500 feet. That amendment, from Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, included a reference to pedestrian routes as the measurement method.

In an email to the city clerk's office, Flynn and Assemblyman Pete Petersen pointed out the discrepancy and asked that the Assembly reconsider the regulations at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday.

The more restrictive Demboski-Starr amendment passed 6-5. But it's not clear that whether the amendment would pass again next Tuesday — Assembly Chair Dick Traini said this week he was changing his vote to require measuring by pedestrian route.

"As the crow flies … it puts so many pieces of property off-limits," Traini said. "It's better to have pedestrian walkway. Most people don't have wings."

After last week's meeting, Demboski said the lot line measurement method was a fair compromise -- she noted the Assembly voted to cut separation distances from 1,000 feet to 500 feet in all parts of Anchorage except Chugiak-Eagle River.

Unlike subjective pedestrian routes, Demboski also said that measuring by lot lines would serve as an "unambiguous standard," said Demboski, a view reinforced by city officials who said it would be much easier to map.

Fee for permit

Separately, the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is introducing at next week's meeting a flat fee to apply for a special land use permit for marijuana -- $1,700.

The fee is aimed only at covering costs associated with processing the permits, Chris Schutte, Berkowitz's director of economic and community development, wrote in an email. Documents submitted to the Assembly show no net revenue to the city's treasury for a permit.

Schutte said the fee was calculated based on average staff time that will be spent reviewing applications, visiting sites and making maps. He said the fee will also cover reviews by other agencies, including building fire and safety inspections, and costs associated with mailing public notices.

For comparison, Schutte said, it costs the city $1,500 to process a conditional use permit for a small restaurant, or a tiny (134-square-foot) bar. It costs $1,700 to process a permit for a mid-sized restaurant, he said.

To operate a pot business in Anchorage, applicants will be required to have both a special land use permit and a local license, in addition to the state license. The city is not requiring a separate license fee, with officials saying those costs will be shared with the state.

Neighborhood planning

Another ordinance being introduced at Tuesday's meeting lays out more details on the city's expectations for how pot business owners will collaborate with their neighbors.

Rooted in an approach proposed by the Fairview Community Council, the effort to put a "neighborhood responsibility plan" into local law was spearheaded by Demboski, and the latest version is co-sponsored by Demboski, Traini and Assemblyman Ernie Hall. The ordinance allows the Assembly to take neighborhood engagement into account when reviewing license applications.

Here are some of the elements:

  • Licensed pot businesses should provide a point of contact to community councils, with a name and contact information, and an after-hours contact for “community alerts and assistance.”
  • Community councils should establish a point of contact and a preferred communication method.
  • Property owners, the community council and immediate residents should set out a schedule to “touch base and mitigate any potential issues.”
  • A memorandum of understanding should be set up between neighbors and the property owner, to be periodically reviewed and updated.
  • The new ordinances on fees and neighborhood planning come a week before the state of Alaska starts accepting applications for pot businesses.