Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the title of Marc Theiler, originally described as an attorney. Theiler is an office manager and strategist for the law firm Walton, Theiler & Winegarden, but is not an attorney.
At its meeting tonight, the Kenai Planning and Zoning commission will vote on Kenai’s first permit for a marijuana business.
If permitted, the Red Run Cannabis Company would grow and sell marijuana products in an earth-toned shop in Kenai’s Thompson Park Subdivision, taking over the location of a closed One Stop gas station and liquor store. Although the site is part of a strip of limited commercial-zoned lots bordering the Kenai Spur Highway, the property immediately behind it and several to the northwest are zoned suburban residential. Some residents of those properties protested the permit when it was heard, and subsequently delayed, at a March 23 planning and zoning meeting.
One vocal opponent was Christine Cook, who lives in the house immediately behind the gas station with her adult daughter, her daughter’s husband, and two grandchildren. Cook wrote in a letter to the Planning and Zoning commission that the store would be “an enterprise that will diminish the peace, safety and welfare of my family and my neighbors.”
The three co-applicants for the permit — Marc Theiler, Eric Derleth, and Roger Boyd — have been advocates for mainstream acceptance of marijuana. Derleth and Theiler founded the Kenai Community Coalition on Cannabis, and Theiler is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Marijuana Task Force. Boyd, who has owned the prospective Red Run property since opening the One Stop there in 1986, said he thought of the marijuana business as more of an activist statement than a commercial enterprise.
“Myself and my partners, we’re all not here for the money necessarily,” Boyd said. “It’s more of a social issue for us. We’re experiencing this new thing and we want to do it in as professionally, as caring, and as reasonable way as we can to help and usher this in.”
Responding to Cook’s statement that the store would create a large amount of undesirable traffic in the neighborhood, Boyd said that he expected Red Run to have a smaller clientele based on research he had seen about the demographics of cannabis users.
“The truth is that the number of people who use cannabis is actually fairly small,” Boyd said. “It’s not like there’s going to be a steady stream of cars in and out of this business. It’s nothing like the liquor and the junk food store and the gas station.”
Cook’s daughter Megan Green said she homeschools her preschool-age son, qualifying the home as a school. Kenai code requires a 1,000-foot setback between schools and marijuana businesses. Green said Red Run’s public entrance would be 75 feet from her property line.
“Our preschooler is enrolled in a statewide correspondence program and attends school full-time in our home,” Green said. “He is an Alaska public school student with the same rights as any other Alaska public school student. And one of those rights is the right to be free from the dangers of retail drug dealerships operating within a thousand feet of his school.”
Asked by planning and zoning chair Jeff Twait, Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom said he was “90 percent sure that (a homeschool) does not trigger the buffer requirements,” and that he would speak with members of the state Marijuana Control Board for a definitive answer.
In addition to Cook, Green, and the three Red Run co-owners, eight other speakers testified regarding the permit — one in favor, the others against. Subdivision resident Elizabeth Brennen said she didn’t oppose commercial marijuana generally, but did not favor stores near residential areas.
“To me, our neighborhood is a guinea pig,” Brennen said. “Have it somewhere else. These are homes. It is just a technicality that (the One Stop property) is not in the residence, when there’s homes all around it. I understand what you guys are trying to do, but you don’t sleep there. … Our fears are legitimate.”
Asked by planning and zoning commissioner Kenneth Peterson, Boyd said he hadn’t considered alternative sites for the shop.
“It’s turned out to be one of the few places in Kenai where you can do this type of business,” Boyd said of his vacant property. “I think it’s actually a very desirable place, sort of away from the downtown, a stand-alone building, on a highway. It has egress from two streets. The surrounding properties, with the exception of the Cooks, are limited commercial zones. I think it’s very appropriate in that area.”
At the March 23 meeting, Planning and Zoning vice-chair Diane Fikes moved to postpone the vote to allow for more public testimony and deliberation. The commission unanimously voted in agreement. Further discussion and a vote will take place in a meeting starting at 7 p.m.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.