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Kirkland community reacts to marijuana shop temporary ban on Market Street

Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. - File Art
Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
— image credit: File Art

It seems Kirklanders can’t have their weed brownies and eat them too -- at least not for now.

Kirkland residents and marijuana retail hopefuls in the Market neighborhood are dissatisfied with the marijuana ordinance the Kirkland City Council passed 5-2 on Feb. 4.

The ordinance immediately banned marijuana retail shops in the Market Street Corridor (MSC) 1 zone of Kirkland for six months.

But in an effort to compromise, the Council approved an amendment that struck MSC zone 2 from the ordinance, which is enveloped in MSC 1, therefore allowing the possibility of marijuana retail shops in MSC 2 zone. The zone currently houses businesses such as the Zip Market and 4/4 School of Music. At least two businesses, Recreational Marijuana King and Twisted Sacks Corp, have applied for a marijuana retail license using addresses within that area.

Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen said the ordinance needed a supermajority to pass and “as the discussion developed, it was clear we would not have that supermajority.”

“The amendment was a compromise,” Walen said in an interview. “In Kirkland, we have all points of views represented.”

Walen said she personally understands the citizens’ frustration and would have rather focused on sites that could work for marijuana retail shops instead zoning by exclusion.

Market neighborhood reacts

But the action left the Market neighborhood advocates, who wrote letters to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the Kirkland City Council and testified at meetings, feeling like the same issues were “left on the table.”

“The main issues that concern Market residents still exist,” said Heidi Kelly, a Market neighborhood resident of 18 years. “Traffic, for instance. Those who use the businesses at the Market location can tell you that there isn’t enough parking there for a business that could potentially draw in people from all over the area. Market Street is maxed out at rush hour already.”

Kelly feels the Council shouldn’t consider the lack of available locations in Kirkland for these retailers based on whether a landlord wants to rent or not because “shops open and close on regular basis.” She thinks the city should look at a more longterm solution that applies to the community overall.

“Some Council members feel they have no justification for any local zoning because a large majority of the community supported the initiative,” she said. “While that is true, those same supporters were also voting for wise, thoughtful implementation of the initiative … No one expected to find a tiny pocket of eligible real estate in a residential neighborhood.”

Kirstin Larson shares Kelly’s concerns in that when the Council compromised by cutting out MSC 2 zone from the temporary ban, they “split the baby.”

“It’s a decision that made no one happy,” she said. “It’s still in the Market neighborhood and it’s still in a location that abuts homes.”

Larson said the MSC 2 zone is 15 feet from someone’s bedroom window and if a marijuana shop was put in, it would be grandfathered in the law before the Council could rezone.

Tyler Tullock, the owner of 4/4 School of Music in the MSC 2 zone said his business has been their for six years and doesn’t anticipate the applicants setting up shop anytime soon.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t be a fan,” Tullock said. “It doesn’t go well with the family friendly business we have.”

General manager Chinki Yi of Zip Market also said having a marijuana business in the MSC 2 zone would be bad for employers in the area.

“We don’t like that kind of business around as our neighbors,” Yi said. “I don’t like that kind of business, bad influence.”

Sharon Singh is frustrated the Council didn’t listen to their concerns over the MSC 2 zone. She said there are much better locations for a marijuana shop, citing the Totem Lake Malls as an example.

“[It] feels very frustrating to neighbors as many of the Council seem to understand, however, their voices are not being heard to due to the outspoken two.”

Singh said she “couldn’t believe” Councilwoman Shelley Kloba’s comment at the last Council meeting, which touched on the fact that 67 percent of Market neighborhood voters voted for Initiative 502 so it made sense for a marijuana shop to be in their neighborhood.

Kloba could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to city documents, voters in the Market neighborhood tied for the second highest in favor of I-502 with the Norkirk neighborhood. The Highlands neighborhood had the most voters in favor of the law of all 14 Kirkland neighborhoods.

Since December, neighborhood advocates, who often wear yellow scarves to Council meetings, have been against marijuana retail applicants listing Market neighborhood addresses in their license applications to the Liquor Control Board. Many residents state they are in favor of I-502 but feel strongly that the places where people can purchase the drug should not be in a heavily residential area, such as along Market neighborhood.

Some of the proposed locations are near safe school walk routes where elementary and middle schools students walk before and after school. Others are concerned about the potential increase of traffic, the increase of crime and the lack of proper parking.

“Given the restrictions that other municipalities have enacted, there is a concern that the Kirkland dispensaries will be a primary source of pot for people across the region,” Kelly said. “Turning Market Street into a primary pot dispensary for our area doesn’t makes sense.”

Market Street Marijuana applicants

Marijuana retail license applicants are also upset but for different reasons.

On top of the rigorous license applications process, fees, and confusing rules, applicants say trying to find a place to do business has been even more difficult. Limiting viable places in Kirkland that comply with the Liquor Control Board’s 1,000-foot rule, such as those on Market Street, creates about seven available locations, according to marijuana retail applicant Allie Charneski with The Novel Tree.

“As of right now, the Liquor Control Board has listed 39 applicants for retail,” Charneski said at the Feb. 4 public hearing. “This takes all but seven out for various reasons.”

While seven seems like a lot of options for a city that’s only allowed two marijuana shops, Charneski said she called all seven landlords or brokers of the spots and none except one wanted to lease to a marijuana business.

Charneski and her business partner Chris McAboy reached out to a developer and was able to convince a land owner to lease their property.

Only one problem: the location is within the MSC 1 zone.

“This pursuit has probably been one of the most challenging things Allie and I have ever done,” McAboy said. “We have hit opposition from landlords, brokers, the general public, and government officials.”

McAboy said a permanent zoning ban would “kill this opportunity” for him and Charneski.

“Right now, approximately 10 people are getting their way of enacting a ban in a location where greater than 67 percent of the population voted ‘yes’ for I-502,” he said. “If the ban holds, there may be no other locations in Kirkland for a retail location due to zoning, longterm leases in place and owner opposition.”

Market neighborhood advocates say they have 60-plus supporters at this time.

The space McAboy and Charneski hope to open The Novel Tree at is along Market Street and is outside the board’s 1,000-foot buffer zones. McAboy said it is in a nearly 10,000-square-foot office/retail space in which the building is 60 percent occupied with tenants. The location currently has more than 30 private parking spaces.

McAboy would not disclose the address but said the landowner has given them a “letter of intent” to be sent to the Liquor Control Board, something marijuana retail applicant Todd Spaits said is hard to come by these days.

“One of the things [the Liquor Control Board] is asking is for a letter from the landlord,” Spaits said, who applied for the 1818 Market Street location back in December. “They’re doing it so that every location can only give one letter of intent out for one person.”

Through Spaits’ experience with trying to secure a location for Biloxi Green, he’s encountered landlords selling these letters of intent, which makes it that much harder to find places for business.

“We’re not sure if it’s entirely illegal,” Spaits said, who also lives in the Market neighborhood. “What they’ve done is opened the door for them to be bought, essentially.”

Spaits said it hasn’t happened with the landlord at the Kirkland location, but that he’ll continue to pursue a license for 1818 Market Street, temporary ban and all.

“I would honestly say, I think my opinion is I don’t think that’s the best location to have one, there’s better locations,” Spaits said of the 1818 Market St. office building.

As for the community fear, Spaits and McAboy believe it is based on the unknown.

“What it comes down to is that people are going to continue to use marijuana as they have through the prohibition era, and the question for us is whether we want those millions of dollars heading south to Mexican cartels or staying in our state supporting the public and our economy,” McAboy said. “After we presented at the last Kirkland City Council meeting, a very nice lady sitting behind us said to Allie and me, ‘I have been against marijuana since the beginning. I have never thought it was a good thing, whether medicinal or recreational. Tonight was the first time I’ve ever had even a slight hope that this could actually work. Thank you.’ We were very motivated by that and the other positive responses we have received.”

What's next?

As the interim ordinance acts as a place holder for the MSC 1 zone, Walen said the city and community will have a more detailed conversation on this issue. The Planning Commission and a Council subcommittee -- the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee headed by Councilman Jay Arnold, will research what else can be done in the longterm. Walen said the residential buffer will be discussed, as well.

Meanwhile, Larson, Kelly and others are still figuring out their next steps.

“We’ve tried to be really respectful to the Council and not be an angry group, showing and yelling,” Larson said. “We’ll be meeting with the Council, trying to work with them, and go straight to the Liquor Control Board if the Council is not going to support us.”

For more information on I-502, visit www.liq.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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