The Eagle Town Board approved the community’s first retail marijuana special use permit Tuesday night for the community’s existing medical marijuana dispensary, Sweet Leaf Pioneer.
But the split decision came after a drama-filled hearing.
Four years ago, in a 4 to 3 split vote, the town board decided to allow medical marijuana operations in Eagle. Since that time, there has been three marijuana-related elections that reflect a similarly divided community. But Tuesday’s discussion centered more around the retail applicant than the question of retail operations.
Three members of the town board opposed the special use permit for Sweet Leaf Pioneer operator Dave Manzanares saying their objections related to character issues. Their specific concerns relate back to a September meeting when the board decided to place a question about retail marijuana on the November ballot. This action upset Manzanares and he was visibly angry, particularly because he believed board member Joe Knabel planned to vote against the election. Eagle Police Chief Rodger McLaughlin asked Manzanares to step outside the meeting room to discuss his issues.
Tuesday night, McLaughlin was asked to related the events from that September hearing. McLaughlin said Manzanares admitted he was upset and said he was willing to “accept a misdemeanor” because he wanted to confront Knabel.
“I took that as he meant to commit an assault or some illegal act that could get him into trouble,” said McLaughlin. He convinced Manzanares to leave the meeting and told Knabel about the incident. The police chief followed Knabel home that night.
“I actually dreaded coming here tonight,” said Knabel, noting that he believed the September incident would be discussed. Knabel said he felt threatened that night. “You shouldn’t have to worry that way, just because you are on a board.”
“I also dreaded coming here tonight,” said Manzanares. He noted the atmosphere at town hall the night in question was heated and he was upset because of his perception that Knabel change his vote.
Character not an issue
But before the town board delved into the character issue, Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands noted that the special use permit review before them was a land use file, not a licensing procedure. The town has opted to require that retail marijuana applicants following the state licensing rules and that is the venue for character issues to be debated. With that admonition, some members of the board said they were not comfortable with the character discussion.
“This is a hurdle for me about how I will vote,” said town board member Scot Webster. “This is something that happened at the town level, not the state level.”
“Town politics can be very intense. People do receive threats,” said town board member Brandi Resa.
After hearing the story from the Knabel, McLaughlin and Manzanares, Resa made a motion to approve the Sweet Leaf retail special use. The motion passed in a 4 to 3 vote with members Webster, Knabel and Anne McKibbin opposed. The special use permit will be for one year from the time of the retail operation opening. At the conclusion of the year, the town will review the operation.
In conjunction with the retail operation, a new cultivation facility for Sweet Leaf located along Marmot Lane also passed in a split vote.
At the conclusion of the hearing, attorney Sean McAllister of Breckenridge addressed the board to commend the Manazanares for their tenacity. This has been an amazing process. Your town, in particular has had the most internalized debate about marijuana of any place in the state,” he said.
“For the last four years, we have not had any citations. The board and the citizens have asked us to run a low profile business and we have,” said Dieneka Manzanares.
She said the business’s retail marijuana license request is currently before the state and Sweet Leaf hopes to have a retail license approval by March at the earliest.
Last week Eagle drew regional headlines when a Denver-based group proposed a $5 million marijuana superstore for the community.
Rocky Mountain Pure Retail Marijuana would include a 6,000-square-foot retail operation and a 22,500-square-foot indoor cultivation center to support the store. The proposal was submitted in late December and was reviewed by the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission last week. In a split vote, commission members recommended approval of the proposed operation with a number of conditions. The Eagle Town Board will have the final say regarding the proposal and the public hearing is planned Feb. 11.
Rocky Mountain Pure applicant Ethan Borg said the Eagle operation would be a destination shop for state residents and visitors. He cited the construction needs for a $5 million facility and the potential of generating more than $500,000 in tax revenues annually (year 5).
While members of the planning commission did vote 5-2 to recommend approval of the proposal to the Eagle Town Board, members questioned the size of the proposal which would be larger that the existing Eagle City Market building. Commission members noted that the town board has the ability to determine that the proposal is too large for the community.