Some cannabis entrepreneurs still face sharp opposition in seeking licenses

Some cannabis entrepreneurs still face sharp opposition in seeking licenses

When David Parker applied for a license to grow marijuana commercially at a facility in Sterling, he knew he’d have to jump through a lot of hoops. But he wasn’t expecting 11 of the neighbors in the area he planned to open his standard cultivation facility, called Fat Tops, to write letters opposing his license and asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to reject it.

At the assembly’s April 4 meeting, several of the neighbors testified in person opposing the license, and more submitted letters. Parker said he’d never met any of the people speaking against his license, nor have they called him, despite his phone number being publicly available.

“There were people who voted to not decriminalize marijuana, and there are people who have very strong views, and that’s what it is,” he said. “They’re expressing their opposition to the industry. I don’t take it personally. I’ve not met any of them, and I believe that once I’m in business, all of the things that they’ve addressed will really have no effect on them at all … They may resent my business. They probably won’t change their minds about it.”

At its April 4 meeting, the assembly heard from several nearby residents who were concerned about the impact of the standard marijuana cultivation facility in their area, on the corner of Murray Lane and the Sterling Highway just outside Soldotna. Fat Tops would be close to homes, a church and a school bus stop, according to opponents. Others worried about increased traffic and potential decreases in property value, according to public comments submitted to the borough.

Tracey Ratliff, who lives next door to the proposed business, told the assembly she is worried about the facility’s water use, chemical discharges and possible ventilation issues.

“I guess I would just ask the assembly to be thoughtful and cautious moving forward. I know everybody’s trying to make their money off this, but I think we need to consider how we want our communities to look,” she said. “… It just disturbs me to have this kind of thing coming into the neighborhood.”

Jim Bergovin, who said he lives about 1,200 feet down the road from Fat Tops’ proposed location, said he is especially concerned about the impact on children in the neighborhood, who often walk to the cluster mailboxes near where the proposed store will be and to the school bus stop on the highway.

“It’s a nice neighborhood,” he said. “Would you like one in your backyard? How do you think it would affect your property values?”

The borough’s letter of nonobjection, a formal letter stating the borough’s approval of the license, is the last barrier to starting operations for Fat Tops — the Marijuana Control Board issued Fat Tops’ cultivation license at its April meeting. Some of the same neighbors submitted letters to the Marijuana Control Board, objecting to the license for the same reasons. Parker has applied for a retail cannabis store license as well, but it has not been approved yet.

The assembly tabled the approval for Fat Tops based on a concern about driveway access to the property at its April 18 meeting. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities did not have a record of a driveway permit for the lot, according to a letter submitted to the borough assembly from DOT, which is required to meet the qualifications for a retail license. The assembly postponed the approval of the permit until the May 2 meeting at the recommendation of the borough’s Planning Commission, which will discuss the license at its April 24 meeting.

Usually, the assembly approves nonobjection letters to alcohol and marijuana licenses through its consent agenda, as it’s a formality to ensure that the business is operating under the borough’s additional stipulations, which include staying in tax compliance, operating within limited hours and not causing any parking in borough rights-of-way. At the April 4 meeting, multiple other licenses went through without controversy.

Additional hurdles for marijuana licenses beyond just meeting legal requirements are part of a trend at the assembly. In March, assembly member Stan Welles of Sterling pulled a nonobjection letter for a proposed marijuana license in Homer from the consent agenda and voted against it based on his personal objection to marijuana being sold legally. A stalwart opponent of commercial marijuana legalization, Welles has pulled the approval for other licenses off the consent agenda to oppose them in the past as well.

At the meeting in March, three members of the assembly voted against the letter for the license in Homer, though the business met all the borough’s requirements. Ultimately, the letter passed, but it sparked a discussion about whether the assembly can legally oppose a license if it meets the requirements. If the borough refused approval though the license met all its requirements, the Marijuana Control Board could overturn the objection as arbitrary and capricious.

Several marijuana industry proponents spoke up at the April 4 meeting to support Fat Tops. Dollynda Phelps, a co-owner of limited cultivation facility Peace Frog Botanicals in Nikiski, told the assembly to support the license and encouraged the public to ask questions about marijuana rather than outright opposing it.

“All of these facilities go through a very strict regulation process,” she said. “… it is not something that is there to run rampant.”

However, the residents of Murray Lane aren’t alone in their concerns about marijuana. Last year, a citizen initiative to ban commercial marijuana operations in the borough outside the cities got the required 898 signatures to be placed on the ballot, but not until October 2017. Residents of the borough’s incorporated cities won’t get to weigh in, but the voters in the unincorporated areas will decide whether the more than a dozen growers and retail operators will get to continue to operate on the peninsula.

The cannabis industry is estimated to contribute about $5.3 million to the peninsula’s economy, according to a survey conducted by industry members a survey Phelps coordinated of current operators and those seeking licenses . If Proposition 1 passes, 16 of the 17 licensees will have to close or move.

Parker said he estimates Fat Tops would create about 10 jobs. Contrary to what opponents said about his relocation into the neighborhood, improving his property to meet the licensing requirements likely increased the property value in the area, he said.

“If people in the borough decide that it’s got to end for us, it’s got to end for us,” he said. “But the people who really want (the proposition to pass) are the people who haven’t taken an honest adult-like look at marijuana and its effects, its effects on the economy, effects on individuals, everything. They want to believe what they want to believe.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

A sign warning of a June 28, 2021, bear attack is placed at the head of the Kenai River Trail on Skilak Loop Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Federal wildlife officers seek information about early-May black bear poaching

Officials think the poaching happened near the east entrance of Skilak Loop roughly 2 miles from Jims’ Landing

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Ninilchik woman dead after Tuesday collision

The woman was attempting to cross the Sterling Highway from Oil Well Road when she was struck by a pickup truck

Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Expect a lot from yourself and from others’

Connections Homeschool students accept diplomas at commencement ceremony

Screenshot
Graduates of Seward High School leave the gym at the end of their graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
‘Give people something to talk about’

Seward High School graduates 30

Kenai Police Chief David Ross speaks to Kenai City Council members about an ordinance that would repeal sections of city code that prohibit public sleeping and loitering and the city’s curfew on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai OKs repeal of loitering laws, curfew for minors

The policies, first enacted in 1978, are difficult to enforce and potentially violate citizens’ rights, according to the Kenai Police Department

Nikiski Middle/High School graduates throw their caps into the air at the conclusion of a graduation ceremony in the school’s gym in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski graduates ‘will always be a part of each other’s stories’

The graduates celebrated their time together and took a moment to anticipate the bright futures that lie ahead

A seal pup rescued from near Kenai beach is treated by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 9, 2024. (Photo courtesy Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)
SeaLife Center admits abandoned harbor seal pups

Both seals were found abandoned and malnourished, and both were born prematurely

Caitlin Babcock, left, and other graduates enter Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna sends off more than 140 graduates at Tuesday commencement

More than 140 students stepped off the Soldotna High School graduation stage… Continue reading

Most Read