Ordinances on cannabis, beach policy introduced

The Homer City Council on Monday introduced two potentially controversial ordinances that could lead to spirited public hearings when they’re next heard at the Feb. 8 council meeting. 

Ordinance 16-04 breaks new ground for the city, and is the first time the city has considered how it would regulate the commercial cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail sale of cannabis or marijuana. By a vote of 53 percent yes, Homer voters approved what Alaska passed with a citizen initiative in 2014 legalizing marijuana. The ordinance defines where those activities would be allowed by zoning district in city limits.

Council member Catriona Reynolds put forth another version of a beach policy ordinance she introduced and then later asked the council to withdraw last fall. 

In light of that discussion, and public support for motorized vehicle use on some beaches, Reynolds crafted a less-restrictive ordinance that would allow motorized vehicles to drive Bishop’s Beach west of the Beluga Place parking lot entrance. It also would allow motorized vehicles east of the Airport Beach 

access on Kachemak Drive, access on state land the city does not control.

For both ordinances, the council voted to introduce them. That action advances the ordinances to public hearing and further consideration in which the ordinances could be amended or rejected. The first public hearing on both ordinances will be Feb. 8.

The council amended the cannabis ordinance to add a second public hearing and second reading on Feb. 22.

The cannabis ordinance drew the most discussion. It came forth after the council in 2015 created a Cannabis Advisory Commission to help guide the regulatory process at the city level. Doing so also allows the city to collect half of licensing fees paid to the state by commercial cannabis businesses. The  Homer Advisory Planning Commission also weighed in with its recommendation on which commerical cannabis activities would be allowed in various zoning districts. It was those recommendations that were on the table Monday night. Those zoning recommendations did the following:

• Banned outright any activities within buffer zones of 500 feet from churches and 1,000 feet from schools and other youth facilities;

• Allowed all cannabis activities in the general Ocean Drive and Kachemak Drive areas, the General Commercial 1 and 2 and East End Mixed Use districts;

• Allowed as a conditional use all cannabis activities in the Central Business Disrict, that is, most of the downtown and Old Town area;

• Banned outright all activities in the Rural Residential district; and

• Allowed as a conditional use retail sale in the Marine Commercial district.

In a Committee of the Whole meeting before the regular meeting, city attorney Holly Wells noted that if the city made a conditional use permit, or CUP, a requirement for some activities, any legal challenge would have to be defended by the city at its cost. If there was no CUP, a citizen could appeal to the state Marijuana Control Board, but the state would have to defend its decision.

That legal point prompted council member David Lewis, also a Cannabis Advisory Commission member, to amend the ordinance making it a permitted use for activities in the Central Business District.

“If there are any complaints, they can be presented at the state level. The state can have the problems of litigation,” Lewis said.

That amendment passed on a 6-0 vote.

Tempers flared when council member Gus Vandyke made a motion to amend the cannabis ordidnance by banning retail sale of pot on the Spit.

“What I see is you have a Homer Spit that is a mega attraction for people coming from all over the sate, and they bring their families with them,” he said.

Vandyke cited family-friendly places like the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon and the Kevin Bell Ice Arena.

“Every one of those has tons and tons of children in there. We shouldn’t allow any cannabis activity at all on the Spit,” Vandyke said.

Lewis pointed out that the Spit wasn’t necessarily all that family friendly.

“We’re talking like this Spit, it’s this great wholesome place. We have the Salty Dawg. We have other liquor stores. You might have five or six guys who went out on a charter who are pounding down beers,” Lewis said.

“You’re suggesting we magnify the problem?” council member Heath Smith asked, starting a testy short debate with Lewis.

“They’re already doing it,” Lewis said “You aren’t going to bring anything new. Those that want to use both are going to use both.”

Mayor Beth Wythe said she thought it was a good idea to ban cannabis sales on the Spit since a lot of the property where there might be shops was on city land leased to boardwalks and other businesses.

Vandyke’s amendment passed on a 4-2 vote, with Lewis and Reynolds voting no.

Lewis also tried to introduce an amendment allowing limited cultivation on Rural Residetial lots 20,000-square-feet or larger. Limited cultivation would be for small growing operations less than 500-square-feet.

At the Committee of the Whole, City Planner Rick Abboud said that state regulations for limited cultivation had requirements like video cameras, lighting and sight lines of 20 feet at entrances.

“The things that you have to set up, it’s not like growing broccoli,” he said. “It’s not like growing something and taking it to the Farmers Market.”

Smith said the Lewis’ amendment was a substantial change and the council needed time to digest it. He also said it’s in conflict with the planning commission recommendtion — even though he had just voted to reject a commission recommendation to allow retail cannabis sales on the Spit.

Council member Donna Aderhold said she wasn’t opposed to Lewis’ amendment, but also wanted to have more time to consider it.

“I want to make sure we get the language right and it’s not arbitrary,” she said.

Lewis’ amendment failed 2-4, again with him and Reynolds voting yes.

The state starts considering commercial cannabis applications Feb. 21. The Marijuana Control Board will consider cultivation and processing permits first since those businesses need to get going for product to be avaliable for retail sale. A business needs to identify a physical address on its application, so there’s a slight risk a business could apply for a license in a zoning district that then gets changed.

The next regular meeting of the council is at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.