By Bill Tiedje
The downtown Streetscape infrastructure bond question as well as a bill permitting the retail sales of marijuana were approved by the Ridgway town council during its regular meeting on Aug. 14.
Ridgway voters will now be asked to decide whether to approve the Streetscape bond question during Ouray County's election on Nov. 5.
Several council members indicated they felt it was time to bring the Streetscape proposal to a public vote after seven years of debate, public hearings and the work of the Streetscape committee.
"If we don't do it now, it ain't goin' to happen," said Councilor Rick Weaver.
The approved draft ballot language for the Streetscape proposal included a maximum repayment amount of $4.6 million after interest, paid on a maximum principal amount of $2.7 million for the downtown streets, sidewalks, curb, gutter, drainage, landscaping and lighting improvements included in the project.
Councilor Ellen Hunter expressed frustration with the maximum repayment amount of $4.6 million and questioned whether the maximum repayment amount could be decreased.
Ridgway bond consultant Steve Jeffers said this maximum repayment amount was necessary to state on the ballot as interest rates could increase significantly before the debt on the bond was issued and interest rates on the debt repayment were fixed.
Jeffers also clarified that previously cited estimates on tax rates for residential and commercial property owners took into account this estimated $4.6 million maximum repayment amount.
Councilor Rick Weaver stated that the maximum repayment amount could also be significantly lower if RAMP (Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships) funding through Colorado Department of Transportation was received, if the town used capital improvement funds to supplement the project or if the bond debt was issued before interest rates rose. Weaver added that community education would be essential regarding the ballot question.
While the retail marijuana sales ordinance, 05-2013, took effect immediately, no retail sales of marijuana will occur until after Jan. 1.
Councilor Jim Kavanaugh was the only council member to voice opposition to the retail marijuana sales bill. Kavanaugh cited his experience as a clinical psychologist and expressed concern for the effects of increased access to marijuana, which he professionally considered an addictive substance, on parents and children in the community.
The bill was passed with an amendment adding a requirement of a 1000 foot setback from any school, alcohol or drug treatment facility, college campus or residential childcare.
Other location requirements in the bill included limiting any retail sales to commercial or industrial buildings in the town's I-1, I-2 or General Commercial Zoning districts.
Acme Healing Center General Manager Dave Niccum explained that the state would have seven days to notify the town after Acme Healing Centers submitted an application on Oct. 1 to the state to become a retail marijuana distributor. Niccum indicated the town of Ridgway would gain the authority to grant approval if the state did not approve the application by Jan. 1.
Niccum also explained that Acme Healing Centers would likely be the only business in Ridgway eligible to apply for retail marijuana sales, as state regulations specify that only existing medical marijuana distributors can open retail marijuana operations in 2014. Barring an agreement between the municipalities of Ridgway and Montrose, a possibility under state law, it was likely that Acme Healing Centers was the only business in the area to meet the requirement, according to Niccum.
No members of the public were present during the council's deliberation on the Streetscape proposal, and Niccum was the only member of the public present during the council's consideration of the retail marijuana sales ordinance.
The only public comment given on the Streetscape proposal was a letter submitted by Andy and Kara Mueller of Ridgway in support of Streetscape infrastructure improvements, citing a need for safe pedestrian passageways.
Mayor John Clark was not present for the meeting.
Most council members expressed discouragement with the lack of public comment during the meeting.