Pubdate: Thu, 24 Apr 2014
Source: Gazette, The (Colorado Springs, CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Gazette
Author: Monica Mendoza


City Hall chambers erupted with cheers and about 30 supporters hugged 
and congratulated each other Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City 
Council allowed a private downtown club for marijuana smokers to remain open.

The city administration had sought to close the club - Studio A64 at 
the corner of Colorado and Wahsatch avenues - but the council denied 
the move in a 5-3 vote. The council said the club not only meets the 
definition of a civic organization, it also meets the city's zoning 
codes and has done no harm to the city. Further, the council directed 
the city staff - the very staffers who appealed the club - to write 
regulations that better define private pot clubs for future applicants.

"The city should look at regulations for this type of business and 
not let it stop here but move forward and do it right," said council 
member Jan Martin.

Supporters and members gave passionate testimony in favor of the club 
that some called a special, safe place where patrons make art, play 
music and take classes. Members also can smoke marijuana that they 
purchased somewhere else.

The club opened more than a year ago and has had a bumpy ride ever 
since with undercover police investigations, a notice of 
cease-and-desist and an appeal hearing before the Colorado Springs 
Planning Commission.

In February, the planning commission upheld its original approval of 
the club, and patrons celebrated thinking the fight was over.

But in March, the city's planning director, Peter Wysocki, appealed 
the commission's decision on behalf of the city's administration. He 
argued in a quasi-judicial hearing at City Hall that the planning 
commission got it wrong when it approved the club. Wysocki said the 
club is not in compliance with city zoning codes. The code, he said, 
does not have a definition for smoking pot in a private club. He also 
argued that membership clubs need to be civic in nature.

Anticipating that supporters would say recreational marijuana use is 
legal in the state of Colorado for adults over age 21, Wysocki said 
the issue is not about Amendment 64 - the state law making marijuana 
possession legal.

"The issue is whether the planning commission made the right 
decision, whether the code allows this type of use," he said.

But the planning commission saw no legal reason to stop the club, 
said Chuck Donley, planning commissioner who testified at the hearing 
to explain the commission's vote.

Other than Wysocki, no one spoke against the club.

About 20 people testified in support of the club. One resident termed 
the city administration's appeal harassment and said the city gave no 
legal reason why the club should be denied.

Other supporters wanted the council to see that the club did have 
civic use. They go to the club because smoking marijuana on 
university grounds is illegal; some said they go for the art and 
music; and others said it's a safe place away from bars and alcohol.

"Please let us keep this safe place in our community," said Ingrid 
Henderson, a UCCS student and vice president of Students for Sensible 
Drug Policy.

Studio A64 owner KC Stark said the appeal should have been tossed 
out. There was no proof that anyone had been adversely affected by 
the club, which is a key criteria for an appeal. He also argued that 
the appellant was listed as the "city administration" and not a person.

"There has not been one complaint filed in a year and half," Stark 
said. "I stand here accused and don't know who my accuser is. You are 
taking my due process away."

Stark, at times, tussled with City Council President Keith King, who 
later scolded Stark and told him he was disrespectful during the 
process. Still, King voted to deny the appeal. Council members 
Martin, Val Snider, Joel Miller, and Helen Collins also voted to deny 
the appeal and keep the club open. Council members Merv Bennett, Andy 
Pico and Don Knight voted to approve the appeal. Council member Jill 
Gaebler was absent and did not vote.

Miller said that although he voted against Amendment 64 and against 
allowing recreational marijuana sales in the city, he could not deny 
the club. Appellants must show the business or zone change has had an 
adverse impact on them, he said.

"I'm still not clear on what the adverse conditions are to (Wysocki) 
or the city," Miller said.

Miller said he concluded that the city administration based its 
complaint on media attention to the club and not because it violated 
zoning rules.

"There was no citizen complaint," he said. "It was an internally 
generated complaint."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom