The 14,000-square-feet empty building on A Street will remain vacant for now after Ashland Planning Commission voted 6-1 Tuesday to deny the application to open a retail marijuana outlet at the site.
Six commissioners who voted to effectively shut down the project said they are wary with the traffic generated from a new marijuana retail store in the historic Railroad District, while Commissioner Michael Dawkins — the sole vote in favor of the applicant — said the commission is singling the business out because it’s a cannabis store.
“They’re picking on it because it’s a new thing,” Dawkins said after the meeting.
The proposal, seeking a conditional use permit for a marijuana retail business, has met with much opposition from community members and scrutiny from the commission since it first filed as a retail sales and grow site.
The applicant, Jorge Yant, CEO of a Medford-based computer software company and owner of the building, announced in January he'd withdrawn the indoor grow part of the application.
Concerns that the remaining retail sales element would worsen an already existing problem with traffic and parking in the area continued to be cited in written comments submitted to city planners and during public comment at meetings. Many also had said they felt a cannabis store “doesn’t belong” in the historic district.
The applicant submitted two traffic analyses that concluded that the proposed business will not create operational or queuing concerns at intersections and that the anticipated traffic volume increase of approximately 5 percent “is too small to cause significant impacts.” The analyses were conducted by Eugene-based Kelly Sandow Engineering in October and January.
Commissioners said they felt the most recent traffic report is not adequate because it was conducted in January.
“This is a quiet month in this town,” Commissioner Deborah Miller said. “There are fewer bicycles and fewer pedestrians now. It would be a more accurate analysis if it’s taken on a spring day.”
Planning staff also said at the meeting that concerns about safety for pedestrians and cyclists in the area remain, adding that the proposal didn’t address potential impacts at the intersection of A Street and Pioneer Street and the intersection of A Street and First Street.
Planning Manager Maria Harris also recommended the commission consider the possible reduction of the overall transportation capacity in the area if the project is approved.
According to the applicant’s report, the numbers of vehicle trips generated from the proposed weed shop during peak hour in the evening is at 28.2 trips per 1,000 square feet, compared to a general office — which is the target use for the building — at 1.49 to 1.74 trips per 1,000 square feet.
“If you have a pie that is the transportation capacity, you have to consider how much of that pie is being taken by this one business,” Harris said. “Other nearby developments haven’t been developed but they are in the Comprehensive Plan.”
She later added that city doesn’t keep a record of the neighborhood’s transportation capacity.
The project’s consultant, Jay Harland, said the report points out no blocking or queuing concern from a mathematical standpoint.
“There’s no issue here,” Harland said, adding that the January report also shows the mobility standard level of service, which is currently being used to measure traffic efficiency by the city, shows “There is adequate capacity for this area.”
Community Development Director Bill Molnar said it’s common practice for city staff to measure traffic this time of the year during school sessions.
“I would guess in this particular town, (traffic from) school is not as important as the tourists,” Commissioner Melanie Mindlin said, adding that she’s also concerned about safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Dawkins said he disagrees with the commission, saying the traffic problem in the neighborhood stemmed from the Ashland Co-op and the hardware store.
“I find it inherently unfair that we’re picking on this one type of business,” Dawkins said. “If we’re going down that line, we should say there should be no retail stores whatsoever allowed in this area.”
Commissioner Troy Brown Jr., supported by Commissioners Hayward Norton and Lynn Thompson, said they will deny any proposal that will worsen the traffic regardless the type of business.
“(Dawkins) made a good point and that’s also why we shouldn’t do it here — we didn’t see it in the past,” Brown said. “We can’t keep making the problem worse.”
Commissioner Chair Roger Pearce also commented on the fact the applicant had twice handed the commission new reports at or right before the meeting.
“That makes thing harder for us to make a decision,” Pearce said.
A concern about the 200-foot buffer requirement between a marijuana business and the residential zone was resolved after Harland clarified that the applicant is willing to shut off access from the premises of the shop to the west side of the building, which is only 25 feet from a residential zone.
Reached by email Wednesday, Yant said he has no comment, other than planning to ”proceed to evaluate all our options."
The Planning Commission will adopt finding of facts on the project application at its meeting in March, Harris said. The applicant then has 10 days to appeal the commission’s vote to the City Council.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.