The Palisade Planning Commission at its meeting on Sept. 2 discussed a request to increase the number and location where cultivation of marijuana is allowed.  The commission also discussed revised language for a proposed short term vacation rental ordinance, and reviewed a re-organization of the Land Development Code.

A public hearing on the request to amend codes to expand the number and locations allowed for marijuana cultivation is scheduled for the Oct. 6 commission meeting.

At present, the Palisade Municipal Code requires that cultivation areas be contiguous to a medical marijuana center location.  Medical marijuana businesses are limited to Town Center, Commercial Business, and Light Industrial zoning districts.  The Land Development Code, in addition, allows cultivation of medical marijuana by patients and caregivers in specific zoning districts, subject to limitations.

Colorado Alternative Health Care, at present the only medical marijuana center business in Palisade, has submitted a request to amend the Land Development Code to allow cultivation of marijuana in agricultural zoning on a remote site, separate from the existing medical marijuana center.

“The applicant desires to lease approximately one acre of land as a cultivation area within a 10-acre parcel that was recently annexed into the Town Limits,” Ron Quarles, Palisade Community Development Director, said in a memo to the commission. The parcel of land is located in the northeast part of Palisade, on the north side of Highline Canal, south of Interstate 70.

Quarles said the off-premises cultivation location, which would serve as additional grow space for Colorado Alternative Health Care, is about one mile from the business.  Brian and Rebekah Cox own and operate a peach orchard on the land.

Quarles noted, “Although the request is related to a specific site, action to amend the Land Development Code should be based on the impact it will have on any affected parcel of land in the Town,” specifically, in Agriculture Forestry Transitional zoning.

Changes that would be considered in the Land Development Code, he said, would “potentially include limitations on size of buildings (green houses), visual screening of the use, signage restrictions, setbacks, distance from schools, and application requirements,”

Retail sales

Quarles pointed out, in addition, that the town board at its meeting on August 26 adopted a resolution submitting a ballot question to the voters in November to determine if the town supports the expansion of allowed marijuana businesses to include retail stores.

“If the voters approve the ballot question, additional changes to the Municipal Code and the Land Development Code will be considered at subsequent public hearings,” he explained.

At the September 2 planning meeting, Dessa Loughman, an owner of the medical marijuana center in Palisade, told the commission, “There’s nowhere else for us to grow in that building,” adding, “We can grow 100 percent of what we’re selling now.”  The center is located at 125 Peach Avenue.

In reply to a question from Commissioner Lafe Wood, Loughman said it would hurt the business bottom line if they bought more marijuana product elsewhere and resold it.

Loughman listed reasons why she and co-owner Jesse Loughman are interested in growing at a remote location, but still in the town limits.  The reasons include reducing the business’s carbon footprint, locating away from schools, and that a grow operation is not legal in the county.

Dessa Loughman said they would like to operate two greenhouses at the remote site.  Jesse Loughman described sets of fencing that would be installed around the location.  The fencing would block the view of the operation, although he said the site “would not look like a prison.”

In addition, “It will be fully monitored, as required by the state,” Jesse Loughman added.  Dessa noted that the electric bill for the indoor cultivation at the present medical center location is $4,000 a month.  “We’re considered small by Colorado standards,” she said.  Jesse Loughman noted after the meeting that cultivation in green houses would save energy costs.

At the meeting, Dessa Loughman invited the commission to call them with questions.  “We’re an open book,” she said.  “We are trudging through unknown territory.  We want to do it right the first time”

Residential vacation rentals

Development Director Quarles presented to the commission a revised and shorter version of a proposed short term vacation rental ordinance that had been discussed at previous meetings.

The amended version states that short term vacation rental standards do not apply to housing that was occupied under ‘house sitting arrangements.’

The definition of short term vacation rental, otherwise, is the same:  “a single family dwelling unit rented on a regular or seasonal basis for monetary consideration for a period of time less than 30 consecutive days, not including a bed and breakfast, residency unit, boarding or room house, or hotel.”

The definition does not include “offering the use of one’s property where no fee is charged or collected, or for house sitting arrangements.”

Changes in the draft, Quarles noted, include eliminating the requirement for obtaining a conditional use permit for establishing a rental.  In the new language, vacation rentals would be permitted as a ‘use by right’ in all zoning districts where single family dwellings are permitted.

Now, as proposed, the applicant/owner of a rental property would have to submit a major site plan.  The process requires notification of property owners by sign posting, mail-outs and publication in the newspaper and a public hearing by the planning commission only, he explained.

In addition, the proposed standards would indicate that no sign to identify the vacation rental is permitted on the property, “and no changes shall be made to the dwelling or site which would diminish or detract from the residential appearance of the neighborhood.”

The standards would include:  The maximum number of occupants “shall not exceed 2 persons per bedroom, plus 2 additional renters overall,” and “parking shall be provided to accommodate one space per dwelling unit plus one space for each occupied bedroom.”

The standards would stipulate that vacation rentals “shall be subject to the same safety and health inspections, licenses, registrations, fees and taxes to which other licensed businesses or places of accommodation are subject.”

At the meeting, Quarles replied to a question from a person in the audience, saying that owners of short term vacation rentals would be required to pay the town lodging fee.

Commission members thanked Quarles for simplifying the language in the proposed ordinance.  “It’s a big improvement over what we started with,” said Commissioner Kenneth Ruth.

Quarles said a final version will be scheduled for public hearings with the planning commission and the trustees at regular meetings in October.

Reorganized Code

Commissioners also expressed thanks to Quarles for the draft for a reorganized Land Development Code.  “It’s great progress, in my opinion,” Chair Betsy McLaughlin said.

Quarles said, “We tried to improve the format.”  In a memo to the commission, he said, “The intent is to create a format that is more intuitive by grouping content under these specific headings.”  The headings include design and development standards, zoning, subdivision regulations, penalties, signs, flood regulations, and manufactured housing.

Quarles said staff will report back to the commission on specific proposed changes and improvements in the code, using resources from the state Department of Local Affairs, and a list of towns comparable to Palisade selected earlier.

New commission member Lafe Wood was introduced at the beginning of the meeting.  Also present was Commissioner Charlotte Wheeler and Town Trustee Robynn Sundermeier, liaison to the commission.

The 45 minute meeting was held at the Palisade Civic Center.  It was held on a Tuesday because of the Monday holiday. Commission meetings are normally held on the first Monday of the month, at 6 p.m. at the civic center, and are open to the public.