Anchorage Assembly relaxes buffer zone rules for pot businesses

Anchorage officials will mark off the minimum 500 feet between schools and pot shops by using walking distances, not a straight line, the Anchorage Assembly decided in a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

The decision means more potential properties will be available for pot businesses in Anchorage. The Assembly's vote, a reversal from two weeks earlier, effectively loosens restrictions on where businesses will be allowed to open by in some cases shrinking the off-limits zone around schools and other restricted places.

That won't apply to Chugiak and Eagle River, where pot shops will need to be at least 1,000 feet away, measured by pedestrian walking distance.

The Assembly had passed conflicting rules on the measurement method at its Feb. 9 meeting. One amendment specifically set the "as the crow flies" straight-line measurement method as the standard, but another referred to the walking route method, which can be more circuitous.

In an email to the city clerk's office the next day, Assemblyman Patrick Flynn -- who has said he's been approached as an investor in a pot business, but hasn't made any formal commitments -- pointed out the discrepancy and asked for a new vote. Flynn voted against using the straight-line, or "as the crow flies," method at the Feb. 9 meeting.

He and others argued that the more restrictive "as the crow flies" method would too drastically shrink the pool of available properties in an already tight real estate market. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski of Eagle River, who introduced the amendment, said she thought it was fair, given that the Assembly had allowed pot businesses to be 500 feet from schools instead of 1,000 feet.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Assembly adopted a proposal co-authored by Flynn and Assemblyman Bill Starr of Eagle River. The proposal said that except in Chugiak and Eagle River, the distance will be measured by the "shortest practicable pedestrian route" instead of from lot line to lot line.


The compromise decision arrived on the eve of the first date that the state will accept pot business applications, to the relief of some hoping to enter the business.

Kevin McKinley, 52, who owns a tattoo and piercing shop downtown, is hoping to open a retail shop downtown. He said the location he's considering, near his existing business on Fifth Avenue, would have been 200 feet short of being allowed when applying the straight-line measurement.

He said he was "euphoric" that the Assembly reconsidered, giving his chosen property a chance. He said he'd been leasing it for the past 18 months.

"It's like a huge weight lifted off," McKinley said. "Now with this, we can move on to really start the real work, the heavy process of doing the applications ... which is going to be no small task in itself."

At a special Assembly meeting earlier this month, Ed Graff, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said the district supported a 1,000-foot separation distance from schools, in line with federal drug-free zones. ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley said Tuesday night that Graff stood behind those comments.

The rules mean all pot businesses will need to be at least 500 feet away from protected uses in Anchorage, and 1,000 feet in Chugiak and Eagle River. In addition to schools, those places are:

  • Churches and other houses of worship
  • Jails and halfway houses
  • Community centers
  • Neighborhood recreation centers
  • Playgrounds
  • Public housing
  • Day care centers
  • Homeless shelters
  • Therapy centers for people with disabilities

In Chugiak and Eagle River only:

  • Dedicated parks
  • Residential districts
  • The McDonald Memorial Center ice rink

The state has adopted the walking-distance measurement method and a 500-foot separation distance from schools.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.