Commissioners deny GL marijuana license |

Commissioners deny GL marijuana license

Kevin Speier with MMK Limited shows attendees the floor plan for a potential marijuana business south of Grand Lake during an open house on Friday evening, Jan. 15.
Hank Shell / Sky-Hi News |

The Grand County Board of Commissioners has denied a retail marijuana license for a business on U.S. Highway 34 near Grand Lake.

The board voted unanimously to deny MMK Limited’s application, citing concerns of residents in the business’s immediate vicinity.

“I’ve looked at the petitions and the signatures,” said Commissioner Jane Tollett. “The people who live within the two–mile radius were overwhelmingly, by a factor of three to one, against this, and they are the people who live there. That’s their property, and that to me was the deciding factor.”

Commissioner Kris Manguso said the board had a history of supporting local control.

“You people taking time out of your day to show up here, sign petitions, sign letters, and show up here today, tells us you want local control in your community,” Manguso said. “This is where you live; this is your neighborhood, and I think that the three of us are recognizing that this is your neighborhood, and we are giving you local control over what you want.”

Before the hearing’s public comment period, Kevin Speier with MMK Limited described his firm as an active community partner and responsible business operator.

Speier and business partner Matt Brien held an open house at the planned business location, about three miles south of Grand Lake, in January.

Speier told the board that MMK picked the location because it was discreet, being set back slightly from U.S. Highway 34, and because there was no safe access to marijuana nearby.

Pledging to be a dedicated partner to the community, Speier said MMK Limited had made a “guaranteed commitment” to contribute 1 percent of gross revenues to the Town of Grand Lake.

The firm would also “help contribute to the development” of both a community center and a medical care facility in Grand Lake, Speier said.

“In closing, we have been a very active part of this community and will only continue to be a very active part of this community,” he said.

At the hearing, support for the business wasn’t absent by any measure.

Nineteen people spoke in favor of the business during the hearing’s public comment period.

Their reasons for supporting the store ranged from the potential economic benefits to social benefits like curtailing the area’s marijuana “black market.”

Francesca Cowgill said the business could attract more young people to the area. The town’s dearth of younger residents is a concern often raised during conversations about the town’s economic health.

“I think our community is ageing too quickly, and I think that making a facility like this happen in that location keeps it out of town in a more safe and isolated location, but encourages perhaps more young people to visit the town,” Cowgill said. “And I think we need that now.”

Lisa Turan, who along with her husband owns the property where the business planned to open, said MMK Limited was the best option among businesses looking to lease the property.

“They had their ducks in a row, so to speak,” Turan said. “They had a plan. They were willing to become part of this community. It’s not a fly-by-night type of thing.”

She also felt it would have a positive impact.

“I would not do anything, from the bottom of my heart, that I believed would hurt this community,” Turan said. “I feel that this will inject some life into this community.”

Arguments against include tourism, federal conflicts

Among those opposed to the proposed business, many said a marijuana dispensary could tarnish Grand Lake’s status as a major tourism destination.

“Personally, I’d like to keep the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park totally clean of marijuana shops or anything that would be a detriment to our tourism,” said resident Mike Fudge.

Others like Peggy Vernon said the business’s proximity to federal lands would create conflicts between marijuana users and law enforcement.

“This is going to place undue hardships and burdens on our forest rangers and park rangers because they are already overworked and underpaid,” Vernon said.

Vernon countered economic arguments in favor of the business with a proposition of her own.

“Is this the kind of person that you want to bring into Grand Lake to rejuvenate Grand Lake?” Vernon asked. “If you want to rejuvenate Grand Lake, bring in a Wal-Mart. We can all use a Wal-Mart.”

Resident Johan Knies said granting the license would be a sour deal for Grand Lake residents and took umbrage at what he described as incursion of Denver norms on Grand Lake’s “family-friendly” image.

“These guys are from Denver,” Knies said. “They don’t even live here. They’re going to tell us what kind of town we need? Say no. Don’t let the Town of Granby be smarter than us, because they said no to them as well.”

striking out in grand county

For MMK Limited, the board’s denial was the latest in a string of disappointments in Grand County stretching back to July 2014, when the Grand County Planning Commission denied the firm’s application for a special use permit for a proposed marijuana grow facility near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 34.

Granby, which doesn’t allow marijuana businesses in town limits, expressed its intent to annex the property, located just outside town limits.

Though the county planning and zoning department had recommended approving the permit, Granby’s announcement swayed the board to deny the permit.

Later that year, MMK Limited and Granby once again faced off after the firm sought to obtain a county license to operate in an unincorporated enclave on the opposite side of town.

Granby’s board executed an emergency annexation of the enclave, prompting MMK Limited’s attorneys to threaten legal action against the town.

Though those threats were eventually dropped, the high-profile spat made headlines across the Front Range, even appearing in the pages of a few national, cannabis-focused publications.

Speier did not return a request for comment as of press time.

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.

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