Pubdate: Thu, 18 Feb 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Devin Kelly


When it comes to setting up a pot business in Anchorage, the way its 
distance is measured from a school can make a big difference in 
whether the business is allowed or not.

At its most recent meeting, amid a flurry of amendments to land use 
regulations, the Anchorage Assembly passed conflicting rules for the 
measurement method. One amendment, from Assemblymembers Amy Demboski 
and Bill Starr, specified that distances would be measured "as the 
crow flies" -- from the edge of a marijuana business to the lot line 
of a protected area -- instead of by pedestrian routes, which could 
be more circuitous.

Industry members immediately seized on the straight line, more 
restrictive approach, saying it would rule out many more prospective 
business locations than the circuitous routes that people actually walk.

During the same meeting, however, the Assembly approved setting the 
required separation distance between pot businesses and schools, 
churches and other protected uses at 500 feet. That amendment, from 
Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, included a reference to pedestrian routes 
as the measurement method.

In an email to the city clerk's office, Flynn and Assemblyman Pete 
Petersen pointed out the discrepancy and asked that the Assembly 
reconsider the regulations at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday.

The more restrictive Demboski-Starr amendment passed 6-5. But it's 
not clear that whether the amendment would pass again next Tuesday - 
Assembly Chair Dick Traini said this week he was changing his vote to 
require measuring by pedestrian route.

"As the crow flies ... it puts so many pieces of property 
off-limits," Traini said. "It's better to have pedestrian walkway. 
Most people don't have wings."

After last week's meeting, Demboski said the lot line measurement 
method was a fair compromise -- she noted the Assembly voted to cut 
separation distances from 1,000 feet to 500 feet in all parts of 
Anchorage except Chugiak-Eagle River.

Unlike subjective pedestrian routes, Demboski also said that 
measuring by lot lines would serve as an "unambiguous standard," said 
Demboski, a view reinforced by city officials who said it would be 
much easier to map.

Fee for permit

Separately, the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is 
introducing at next week's meeting a flat fee to apply for a special 
land use permit for marijuana -- $1,700.

The fee is aimed only at covering costs associated with processing 
the permits, Chris Schutte, Berkowitz's director of economic and 
community development, wrote in an email. Documents submitted to the 
Assembly show no net revenue to the city's treasury for a permit.

Schutte said the fee was calculated based on average staff time that 
will be spent reviewing applications, visiting sites and making maps. 
He said the fee will also cover reviews by other agencies, including 
building fire and safety inspections, and costs associated with 
mailing public notices.

For comparison, Schutte said, it costs the city $1,500 to process a 
conditional use permit for a small restaurant, or a tiny 
(134-square-foot) bar. It costs $1,700 to process a permit for a 
mid-sized restaurant, he said.

To operate a pot business in Anchorage, applicants will be required 
to have both a special land use permit and a local license, in 
addition to the state license. The city is not requiring a separate 
license fee, with officials saying those costs will be shared with the state.

Neighborhood planning

Another ordinance being introduced at Tuesday's meeting lays out more 
details on the city's expectations for how pot business owners will 
collaborate with their neighbors.

Rooted in an approach proposed by the Fairview Community Council, the 
effort to put a "neighborhood responsibility plan" into local law was 
spearheaded by Demboski, and the latest version is co-sponsored by 
Demboski, Traini and Assemblyman Ernie Hall. The ordinance allows the 
Assembly to take neighborhood engagement into account when reviewing 
license applications.

Here are some of the elements:

Licensed pot businesses should provide a point of contact to 
community councils, with a name and contact information, and an 
after-hours contact for "community alerts and assistance." Community 
councils should establish a point of contact and a preferred 
communication method. Property owners, the community council and 
immediate residents should set out a schedule to "touch base and 
mitigate any potential issues."

A memorandum of understanding should be set up between neighbors and 
the property owner, to be periodically reviewed and updated.

The new ordinances on fees and neighborhood planning come a week 
before the state of Alaska starts accepting applications for pot businesses.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom