Rachel Hightower and Ben Burns present a board showing homes, other buildings and activities near a proposed marijuana dispensary in Douglas, during a Juneau Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. The couple argued the dispensary, which was unanimously approved by the commission, is inappropriate for a neighborhood where there are families with small children and a school. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rachel Hightower and Ben Burns present a board showing homes, other buildings and activities near a proposed marijuana dispensary in Douglas, during a Juneau Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. The couple argued the dispensary, which was unanimously approved by the commission, is inappropriate for a neighborhood where there are families with small children and a school. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

First marijuana dispensary in Douglas clears early hurdle

Proposed shop approved by Planning Commission despite opposition from neighbors

This story has been updated to state the operators seeking to open the dispensary are Julie Hamilton (not Deborah Hart) and Kent Hart. The dispensary would also be an additional structure on the single-residence property.

A proposed marijuana dispensary near the waterfront in downtown Douglas has some neighbors feeling anything but mellow about such a business in a neighborhood with a lot of kids and a nearby school.

An application to establish the Treadwell Herb Co. at 824 Front St. was unanimously approved by the Juneau Planning Commission on Tuesday, after hearing both the dreams of the dispensary’s two would-be operators and protests by two couples living in the neighborhood. The objecting couples, in addition to arguing it’s improper for the neighborhood, stated there was insufficient public notice about the proposal because few people in the area knew about it at the time of the meeting.

The dispensary still needs to obtain operating licenses from the city and the state Marijuana Control Board.

Julie Hamilton said she and her business partner Kent Hart are hoping to open a dispensary as a new structure on the property that currently has a single-family residence rented out for short and mid-term stays. She said the dispensary won‘t allow on-site consumption, won’t be open “for incredibly long hours” and “the theme we‘re sort of hoping to do is the mining industry of Douglas.”

“We believe that there is a demand for a marijuana store in Douglas,” she told the Planning Commission. “There certainly is none. If people want to purchase marijuana they have to go across the bridge.”

Objecting to the proposal were Rachel Hightower and her partner, Ben Burns, who presented a wooden board with images showing other structures and activities in the neighborhood. In addition to family homes with young children, there are parks, athletic fields and Juneau Montessori School within a short walking distance.

“I don’t have a problem with marijuana,” Hightower said. “I do have a problem with it in a community of little kids.”

As for Douglas not having a dispensary, she said “in less than five miles you can obtain whatever you want from another dispensary. You have to go over the bridge to get bread.”

Also objecting to the dispensary was Betsy Longenbaugh, who with her husband Ed Schoenfeld live and guide walking tours in Douglas. She noted the dispensary would be close to a boat ramp and people from vessels having access to marijuana there “is a real concern for public safety” since the drug has been cited as a factor causing accidents.

Furthermore, while a notice sign of the application for the property was posted in public view and the city published advance notice of the Planning Commission as legally required, Schoenfeld argued it was inadequate. He said a community Facebook page for Douglas residents eventually attracted lively discussion for and against the dispensary, but “nobody seemed to be aware of it until I told them.”

Also, while the dispensary is at least 500 feet from the school as legally required, Burns noted the distance requirement is 1,000 feet in some other states.

Abstaining from the commission’s vote and testifying in opposition was Josh Winchell, who has two children and lives in the neighborhood, saying he “has no desire to demonize marijuana” but agrees with those who believe it is inappropriate for the area.

Multiple Planning Commission members, in stating their support for the application, noted the dispensary is appropriate for the property designated as a light commercial zone.

“I can see that there may be more appropriate uses, but the Planning Commission’s responsibility is not to dictate how property owners use their properties,” Erik Pedersen, a commission member, said.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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