The Whitefish City Council on Feb. 21 unanimously passed an interim zoning ordinance that prohibits the approval of new applications for administrative conditional use permits for marijuana dispensaries for the next six months.
The council moved ahead with the interim ordinance after a work session in early February in which it became increasingly apparent that members of the council and members of the public had concerns about the number of dispensaries that have been approved in Whitefish, including their location in relation to schools and churches.
A staff memo from City Planning Director Dave Taylor noted that there are 11 active permits for dispensaries within city limits, but only five are operating. In August the city had approved granting a conditional use permit to a dispensary on Baker Avenue, despite opposition from some area residents, as well as Whitefish Credit Union, which owns property nearby. Among the concerns brought forward were the dispensary’s proximity to a church. At the time, Taylor said the location passed the state’s three-part test for dispensary locations, and only Councilor Rebecca Norton voted against approval.
Before voting to approve the recent interim ordinance, Councilor Frank Sweeney explained his support for the decision.
“I think it’s pretty clear from our work session that the public and, I, quite frankly, am very concerned about the proliferation and the number of marijuana dispensaries that have already been approved. I think we certainly have enough. I think there are concerns regarding proximity to other businesses and to schools and to churches for that matter,” Sweeney said. “It raises some good concerns that I think we need to evaluate a little better. Quite frankly, as one of our former councilman used to say, there may have been some unintended consequences associated with what we passed initially, and so I’d like to reevaluate it.”
Ahead of the work session to discuss dispensaries in early February, Taylor noted in a memo that with current regulations and buffering requirements no additional dispensaries could be located with a Central Avenue address, and there were no current applications for new dispensaries on Central Avenue or in the vicinity.
The council will have the option to extend the temporary ordinance for up to a year. City Attorney Angela Jacobs encouraged the council to have a work session soon to discuss any possible changes to city code in relation to the ordinance.
The current city code defers back to state standards when it comes to setbacks and dispensary locations in relation to schools and churches. Those standards allow a dispensary to go in next to a school or church if the address and doors are on different streets, according to a memo sent by Taylor and Jacobs to the city council. The city does have an exception to the ordinance that prohibits dispensaries on Spokane Avenue between Railway Street and East Second Street.
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