Council deadlocks on extending pot moratorium

The Ocean Shores City Council on Monday convened public hearings on three key issues:

• Extending the moratorium on production, processing and further retail marijuana businesses.

• A proposed Transportation Benefit District to fund road and street repairs.

• A development moratorium on an area near the North Jetty that has been battered by storm and shoreline erosion.

While the council unanimously voted to extend the development moratorium at the jetty, it failed to pass the marijuana moratorium, even after a clause was proposed to eliminate the moratorium on further retail, medicinal or recreational sales. That means the moratorium could effectively expire unless the council takes further action.

The moratorium would have applied to any marijuana-based business that had not obtained a state license prior to 2016, City Attorney Brent Dille said.

The state Liquor Control Board, which governs marijuana rules in the state, has allowed local jurisdictions more flexibility in determining the buffers and zoning issues that go into determining where marijuana businesses are located, Dille told the council.

The city’s Planning Commission also has been asked to review the new rule changes and the impact such businesses would have.

“They have not yet come back to us with an opinion, and that will be forthcoming in the next few months,” Mayor Crystal Dingler said. The proposed moratorium was for another six months, but Dingler said the council could choose to end it at any time.

While no one from the public spoke either for or against the moratorium, the council could not reach a consensus about extending the full measure.

Councilman Jon Martin asked if it could be narrowed in scope, eliminating the clause that pertained to retail sales. Currently, the city has one retail recreational marijuana store fully licensed by the state and city already in operation.

The marijuana measure, Ordinance No. 970, outlines a six-month moratorium prohibiting the production or processing of marijuana, as well as any new recreational or medicinal cannabis stores or clinics. The council was being asked to extend the moratorium for another six months.

Also included in the moratorium proposal were marijuana collective gardens or co-ops not licensed by the state Liquor Control Board prior to 2016, and the moratorium would prohibit “granting of any city license or permit related to such activities to any entity not licensed by the city prior to 2016.”

Councilwoman Jackie Farra said she was against any growing operations because “evidently it stinks like a skunk when you are growing it. I don’t know, but that is what I was told.”

Councilman Bob Peterson said he was against exposing youth in the city to any more marijuana businesses than already exist. “We have a large enough problem as it is,” he said.

Councilman John Lynn said he favored the moratorium until the Planning Commission had time to fully review the impact on zoning and the city’s long-range comprehensive plan.

“I don’t see a problem with extending the moratorium at all,” he said. “If you read the newspapers and look at the news around our state, a lot of communities are wrestling with what they can and cannot do. It’s always better to take a little more time.”

But the council split 3-3 each time they voted on either the overall moratorium or an amended version, with no majority due to member Holly Plackett being absent from the meeting. Plackett has been an opponent of expanding marijuana businesses in the city.

It is unclear yet if the moratorium will be proposed again on the Aug. 22 council meeting agenda.

“We didn’t get any movement tonight,” Dingler said. “One of the things that will happen, unless you want us to bring something different back to the next council meeting, this will die — the moratorium will die.”

Transportation District

The newest item on the hearing agenda was the creation of the Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which was proposed as an item for public hearing July 11 by Councilman John Lynn. To create such a TBD under state law, a public hearing first must be conducted.

Lynn introduced the idea in June as a mechanism to pay for upkeep and maintenance for the city’s nearly 120 miles of roads and streets.

There are two viable ways to produce revenue with a TBD. One is the sales/use tax, which must be voter-approved. The other is a vehicle license fee of $20, which may be imposed by the TBD without a vote.

Aberdeen voters in 2013 approved a local sales and use tax increase of .13 percent (.0013) for that city’s TBD.

A sales/use tax would be paid by visitors to the city as well as local residents, Lynn said in first proposing the mechanism for Ocean Shores. That would give the city a means to collect some revenue from people who use the streets but don’t pay property taxes in the city.

At the public hearing, all the citizens who spoke in favor of the district also were in favor of the sales tax option over the vehicle license fee, and for putting the proposal up for a public vote.

Estimates are that a sales/use tax increase would raise $75,000 to $85,000 per every .01 increase.

If such a TBD were to be enacted, the council would be the overseeing legislative body.

“I am very much in favor of maintaining our streets, and it looks like at this time the Transportation Benefit District may be the only way,” said resident Don Williams. “But I would only be in favor of it if the revenue were the sales tax, not the car tab tax.”

Susan Conniry also said she favored the TBD if the council chose the sales tax option with a public vote, rather than car fees, and held a town hall to outline the plan.

“The benefits will be acute if we do it and include the citizens,” said Conniry.