BURLINGTON — It’s been more than two years, but the recipient of the first — and only — marijuana-related business license for the city of Burlington will have to continue to wait before opening shop.
In 2013, Jason Kitzman, a Burlington chiropractor, applied for and was granted two licenses from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to be used in Skagit County: One in Anacortes and one in Burlington.
While High Society, his shop in Anacortes, has blossomed in its first year of business, Kitzman has yet to finalize a location for his Burlington store. It’s a problem he said he’s been working to rectify with the city.
“It’s been a two-year, hundreds-of-hours process up to this point,” Kitzman said.
The problem, Kitzman said, lies in zoning requirements established by the city that go above and beyond the state’s requirements.
While the state has limits on how close marijuana-related businesses can be to schools, parks, playgrounds and transit centers, the city Planning Commission — and subsequently the City Council — went a step further in 2013 when it established that marijuana businesses could not be within 1,000 feet of a single-family residence.
“That has restricted it so there are only a few small areas in town that these facilities can be sited,” City Administrator Bryan Harrison said.
In its code, the city has made no distinction between retail stores, processors, or producers, Harrison said. All must comply with the same rules.
A business park on the city’s north side, east of Interstate 5, is zoned for marijuana businesses, Harrison said. But Kitzman said he hasn’t been able to move forward in a space at that location because the landlord won’t lease to him.
Some real estate and leasing agents have expressed concern to the city about associating with marijuana businesses, Harrison said. Some question whether they would face ramifications as the industry is not recognized federally as legal.
“That is a decision only (those agents) can make,” Harrison said. “We don’t hold their licenses.”
For Kitzman, that limits his options even more.
“Burlington has tiny city limits,” he said. “With the current rules, there’s no place to put it.”
An area Kitzman would like to see the city make available to him is a location on the west side of I-5 near several auto dealerships, he said.
That area is zoned for heavy commercial use. A proposal by Kitzman to the Planning Commission to include marijuana in that zoning was denied.
It’s not that the city wants to keep marijuana businesses out of that area, Harrison said. It’s that it wants to keep the area available for other businesses, such as the auto dealerships already there.
“Burlington is heavily dependent on sales tax income, and the largest source is from the sale of cars,” he said. “It’s a pretty important area for the future of the city.”
Instead, Kitzman and other marijuana business owners have to hope the city will ease its single-family residence restriction.
Removing that restriction is an issue that first appeared on the Planning Commission’s agenda in October, Harrison said, and was brought up again for the next three months before appearing on the City Council’s Feb. 25 agenda.
At that meeting, the council chose to postpone any zoning amendments until this fall when it completes its 2017 Comprehensive Plan.
“Establishing and adopting zoning is a legislative act, and a purely discretionary act of council,” Harrison said. “They can choose to act, they can choose not to act. (The issue) is very important to council, and very important to the community.”
Councilman Chris Loving, whose son owns the Loving Farms marijuana store in Mount Vernon, recused himself from the February discussion.
For Kitzman, the city’s decision on whether to change zoning to accommodate marijuana businesses might be too far away.
“My (Liquor and Cannabis Board) investigator calls me twice a week,” Kitzman said. “(The Liquor and Cannabis Board) is not going to wait until fall. If I don’t get (a) property, I’ll lose the license.”
As the state continues to refine its marijuana laws, Kitzman’s already-granted license, which he paid a $250,000 application fee for in 2013, is increasing in market value — he said it’s now worth between $500,000 and $600,000.