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Proposed shop gets approval from City Council after applicant appeals prior denial

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - City council member Keith Locke, right, provides comments about an appeal presented to the council for a retail pot shop to be established in the Riverfront District at 100 St. Helens St. The council voted unanimoulsy to approve the conditional use permit a month after reaching a tie vote in August, when Locke was absent.St. Helens City Councilor Keith Locke was expected to break a tie on whether or not to approve a pot shop in the Riverfront District, but the full council ultimately voted in favor of approving the shop after establishing conditions for its operation.

A retail pot shop proposed at the corner of St. Helens and 1st streets in St. Helens received unanimous approval from the St. Helens City Council on Wednesday, Sept. 19, after the council previously left open an appeal hearing last month, which resulted in a tie as only four members were present.

Robert Lee, the business applicant, and Robert Lucas, the building owner, submitted an application to the city in July to establish a retail pot shop at 100 St. Helens Street. The proposed location is in a general commercial zone, which requires a conditional use permit for retail marijuana operations.

St. Helens city code requires marijuana retailers to obtain conditional use permits before establishing shops in the Riverfront District, the Houlton Business District, mixed use, general commercial and highway commercial zones. Those zones unconditionally allow operations like retail shops, restaurants, theaters, banks, some homes and offices.

The unexpected unanimous vote followed a long process last month when council members Ginny Carlson and Doug Morten voted against the appeal, citing concerns it could compromise a family-friendly downtown. Mayor Rick Scholl and councilor Susan Conn both voted in favor, noting it is a legally allowable business in Oregon.

This week, however, Morten and Carlson reversed their decisions and voted to approve the permit with conditions. Some of those conditions include limiting hours of operations on Sundays, limiting the quantity of marijuana products that can be sold, and preventing offsite odor impacts. City staff is expected to devise a formal set of conditions for the council to consider at a future meeting.

Lee and Lucas were recommended for denial of a conditional use permit by the St. Helens Planning Commission in July on the basis the business was not compatible with existing businesses and did not adhere to the city's comprehensive plan.

In August, Lee filed an appeal with the city, arguing the permit should not have been denied as an incompatible use since the business "as a retail outlet creates economic value in old town and is compatible with the other uses locally," Lee noted.

The appeal letter continued with the argument the retail shop is not within a 1,000 feet of a child care facility that had existed at the time of the time of the complete conditional use application. During initial discussions and public testimony, some residents expressed concern about the location of the proposed shop in the Riverfront District where children and young families are routinely present.

Only four council members were present at the appeal, which constituted a necessary quorum to hold the meeting, but when it came time to vote, the council reached a tie vote of 2-2. Locke was absent from the meeting due to do a family emergency.

The council determined to leave the deliberations open and noted it would allow Locke to review the appeal and all testimony provided during the appeal before the Sept. 19 council meeting this week.

On Wednesday, Locke voted in favor of the shop and cited personal support for the use of marijuana products for medical reasons, as well as supporting the growth of businesses in the downtown

area.

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