Pasco council discusses pot moratorium; to vote Sept. 3

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldAugust 26, 2013 

The Pasco City Council discussed a six-month moratorium on producing, processing and selling marijuana in the city at its Monday evening meeting.

City officials say they need more time to review the possible impacts. Many questions remain unanswered after the passage of Initiative 502 by Washington voters.

The law sets up a framework for marijuana producers, processors and retailers to become licensed by the state, but federal law continues to outlaw marijuana.

The city risks violating federal law on one hand, and interfering with Washington resident's rights on the other, Councilman Saul Martinez said.

"This puts us between a rock and a hard spot," he said.

Moratoriums have served Pasco well in the past, City Manager Gary Crutchfield said. He cited as an example the Liberty Theater, which was converted into an adult establishment in the 1970s.

"The city had no ordinance on the books saying, 'You couldn't do that,' or a set of regulations on how you could," he said. "Had the city been aware of what was coming into the community and put a set of rules in, the city would have been in much better position."

Cities can set six-month or yearlong moratoriums on marijuana-related businesses, according to city attorney Leland Kerr. The longer moratorium would require the city to show it is putting together a work plan for approving the businesses.

The first licenses for marijuana-related businesses in the state are expected to be issued late this year or early next year.

The council is expected to vote on the moratorium at its Sept. 3 meeting. A public hearing, is planned for Oct. 7.

The Richland City Council is expected to discuss a moratorium on marijuana production and sales in that city at its meeting tonight. The Kennewick council has already approved a moratorium.

In other business Monday, the council decided a citywide ban on soliciting money from drivers would need more discussion.

"It basically says, 'If you're going to solicit, don't interfere with traffic directly or indirectly,' " Crutchfield said.

While Kennewick has an ordinance in place preventing aggressive panhandling, it only prohibits solicitation at certain busy intersections and close to financial institutions and ATMs.

It makes more sense to make a city-wide ordnance, rather than having to keep adding new roads and intersections that fall under the law, Crutchfield said.

"They have to come back and amend it every two or three or four months when they find a new location they can think of," he said.

The council determined that there are areas not covered by the ordinance, such as kids soliciting for fundraisers or political candidates asking for votes, that would need more discussion.

Casey Kasselder with the Muscular Dystrophy Association addressed the council from her wheelchair. She asked council members not to prevent collections for the "Fill the Boot" campaign, where firefighters raise money for MDA at intersections.

"I think if we have an organization doing it, it's a selfless act," she said. "Firefighters have the gear to do so. They're professionals."

The council also discussed raising its base park impact fee for single-family homes to $1,500, more than double the current $709. The fee, which is charged on each new home, goes toward park construction.

The extra money is needed because the city has not been including the cost of building curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets around the parks as part of the fee, Crutchfield said.

The proposed changes would include a 50 percent break in the fees for developers who donate land for a park in their subdivision and a 100 percent break if they pay for all the park's infrastructure, Crutchfield said.

Pasco would have the highest park fees in the Tri-Cities if the increase is approved, according to city documents. Richland now charges $1,187 per home, West Richland charges $860 and Kennewick charges between $300 and $1,000.

Renee Brooks, government affairs and communications director for the Homebuilders Association of Tri-Cities, said in a letter to the city that the organization is "vehemently opposed" to impact fees of any kind. Brooks blamed school impact fees for driving down new home permits in Pasco by 35 percent in 2012 and another 40 percent through June of this year.

Developers and builders pay the impact fees, but pass them on to consumers, she wrote.

"Increasing the price of a home through new fees and taxes simply prices more and more people out of the market -- depriving people of the American dream," Brooks wrote.

In a response, Pasco community and economic development director Rick White wrote that the fees preserve home values in the neighborhoods where the parks are built.

"I believe that the creation, furnishing and maintenance of neighborhood parks does directly benefit those homes by making them more valuable (and sellable) than similar homes without the park amenity," White wrote.

The council also discussed the first phase of a plan to demolish buildings for the planned Lewis Street railroad overpass. The city will have to pay $78,000 on top of a $500,000 federal grant for the first phase of demolition of buildings in the area of the project, which will be built downtown between Lewis and Clark streets.

The city plans to put the demolition project out for bid in October and start work in December or January.

The total cost of the overpass, which the city doesn't have funding for, is expected to be around $31 million.

The council discussed selling a 1998 fire department ladder truck to North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District in Oregon for $45,000.

The council again heard from former Spokane Mayor John Talbott, who was escorted out of last Monday's meeting. Talbott stayed within his time limit Monday, but questioned the city's process of awarding merit pay increases.

"I don't expect any resolution," he told council. "I just expect that you would take under consideration the concerns that I have and the citizens have."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543;; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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