P&Z Commission suggests 750-foot ‘walking distance’ restriction on medicinal pot dispensaries

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Owensville Planning and Zoning Commission members on Monday recommended setting a 750-foot “walking distance” between any potential medical marijuana dispensaries and churches, schools or day care centers.

Owensville’s Board of Aldermen will make a final decision on the proposal, possibly as early as Aug. 5. And while it’s apparent at least some members of the P&Z Commission do not favor the sale of medical marijuana, they realize a state law was approved authorizing such sales. And, by not taking action to  control where it may be distributed in the city, it could mean the loss of local tax dollars.

P&Z Commission member unanimously approved Steve Hobein’s motion to recommend the city allow for the dispensing of medical marijuana in a commercial highway zone while setting a 750-foot “walking distance” between such permitted facilities and any church, school or day care facility.

Travis Hernandez, the city’s contracted engineer with Archer-Elgin, explained to P&Z members that the “walking distance” restriction meant the physical distance of walking out a front door of a dispensary, and using designated sidewalks and roadways to connect with the property line of the facilities mentioned. State law allows for up to a 1,000-foot restriction which would reduce the number of potential locations for such facilities in Owensville.

In one strip mall site mentioned for a potential dispensary site, Hernandez,  explained the distance would be measured in feet out the door, down a driveway to the highway, over to a designated roadway and up that road to a church — 980 feet. “That’s how you explain it to them,” said Hernandez. “Yes. Legal walking distance. A thousand feet gets a whole lot closer then.”

He had been asked if municipalities could deny requests for distribution facilities. “We can’t say no. It’s state law,” Hernandez told them.

Peggy Farrell, deputy city clerk who handles P&Z records-keeping, told the group they could reduce the limit down to 500 feet if they wished.  

“Or five,” said the board’s chairman, Tom Lahmeyer.

Correct, he was told.

Hernandez said cities are being advised to avoid handling such requests by requiring conditional use permits as those can be interpreted as instances of favoritism and could land the city in a legal fight.

Farrell told members the city had received at least three inquiries about potential locations for medical marijuana dispensary sites. Mayor John Kamler said he knew of at least two inquiries for potential marijuana manufacturing sites. “That will be a large facility,” he said.

She and Hernandez have attended seminars for municipalities about the industry which becomes legal Dec. 31. P&Z members wanted to wait until next month to discuss option on zoning for potential growing, and or edible manufacturing operations.

“If we don’t move on it we’ll lose out,” said Hobein. “At least if we have this, then the city will have a little control.”

Earlier in the 35-minute meeting,  Hobein cited the potential income of local taxes as a reason to be proactive. These facilities will be developed. They are limited to a set number in each U.S. Congressional District. They will be operating somewhere after the first of the year.

“Personally, I don’t want them selling in town,” he said, but acknowledging it was “inevitable.” 

Hernandez had explained the state will collect a sales tax of 4 percent for veterans health programs. Cities and counties will collect their normal sales taxes. Cities and counties may not impose special medical marijuana taxes.

“Cities can’t specifically ban it,” he said.

“We might as well take advantage of it. We might have to drop down to seven-fifty (750 feet),” said Hobein. That ended up being his motion which was approved and will no go for approval by aldermen. Kevin McFadden, a Ward 1 alderman, was present as was Denise Bohl, an alderman in Ward 2 who is appointed to the P&Z Commission as an elected representative.

What’s next?

Discussion on the proposal to set the distance restriction at 750 feet will be required by aldermen.

If they opt to adopt the P&Z recommendation, a public hearing will be required for a potential change in zoning. That might come in August but is likely to take place in September. City officials mentioned they hope to learn more about this issue at the Missouri Municipal League’s annual conferences in September.

“It’s going to be a little while,” said Farrell