Planning commission makes marijuana recommendations

The Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended marijuana regulations for the Soldotna City Council to consider as the city’s two-year ban on commercial marijuana comes to an end on Feb. 15.

The commission’s recommendation would allow marijuana retail, manufacturing and testing in commercial zoning districts and testing in limited commercial districts. The resolution does not recommend allowing cultivation in any of the zoning districts.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in the downtown improvement and we have a very limited area for that,” commission member Jenny Smithwick-Aley said at the Wednesday night meeting. “Cultivation facilities could be large, possibly not attractive. They also are not going to be retail, so they don’t really fit in the downtown area, and being the wholesale nature, we’re not going to collect sales tax. There’s not a lot left in our area for shops and retail and I don’t see filling it up with cultivation facilities as beneficial really to the city.”

The commission also recommend that the city adopt a 500-foot buffer zone from schools, colleges, universities, state licensed day cares, recreation or youth centers, places of worship and correctional facilities. They recommended that the city adopt a 200-foot buffer zone from libraries, substance abuse treatment facilities, transitional housing, recovery facilities and from city parks.

The commission’s resolution also recommends that these buffer distances be measured as the closest distance from a marijuana establishment structure to the lot line of the sensitive buildings, excluding places of worship which measures the closest distance between the perimeter of the two structures. This measurement, described by City Planner John Czarnezki as “as the crow flies,” is different from the state regulations which determine the distance by measuring the shortest pedestrian route from the public entrance of the marijuana establishment.

“I don’t know how the state determines (the pedestrian route). … There’s some interpretation to be done and that’s why we’re recommending the straight line’” Czarnezki said. “Using the pedestrian route is difficult because there are all sorts of ambiguities that come with it and that’s why we decided that ‘as the crow flies’ would be easy to interpret, understand and enforce.”

In deciding their recommendations, the commission took into account how the city’s small size will effect potential businesses from finding locations in the city.

“We have such a small community,” said member Kaitlin Vadla. “Soldotna is seven square miles … (a reduced buffer) means we have a little more wiggle room in our very small town.”

The commission passed the resolution and a copy of the record will be forwarded to Soldotna City Council for consideration. Resolutions pertaining to retail marijuana in Soldotna will be introduced at the Jan. 10 city council meeting. There will be public hearings on the ordinances on Jan. 24 and Feb. 14.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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