City narrowly passes medical pot changes

Jason Ferguson

The Custer City Council at its June 7 meeting narrowly approved a modification to an ordinance for which it had already passed a first reading on placing a moratorium on applications for medicinal marijuana establishments until groundwork for the rules for such establishments are clarified by the state.
The modified ordinance passed by a 3-2 vote, with alderwomen Dixie Whittaker, Peg Ryan and Nina Nielsen voting in favor, while aldermen Bob Schilling and Todd Pechota voted against.
Pechota said he didn’t like that the ordinance prevented potential owners of medical cannabis businesses from submitting an application. Pechota said the city could allow the applications without giving any businesses the green light to go ahead, and in doing so, could learn how medicinal marijuana and related businesses could impact the town.
Pechota said he feared the city could end up coming up with “a whole lot of this and that” in terms of regulations that could overstep allowable laws.
City attorney Chris Beesley called the modified ordinance a stopgap measure that falls in line with what Pechota actually wants, as it gives the city the right to modify medical marijuana regulations, saying otherwise the rules the state hands down may not allow the city to tailor the rules to its community.
“With all due respect, we are fundamentally divergent and we are not going to change each other’s minds,” Pechota said, adding he felt the modified ordinance was a “barrier to business.”
The modified ordinance further states “the public interest requires that the municipality study, analyze and evaluate the impacts of medical cannabis establishments and fully explore the impacts of any proposed regulations regarding medical cannabis establishments.”
The temporary ordinance states it will ensure that more comprehensive zoning ordinance and building permit changes, licensing permits and the comprehensive plan can be examined with public input from citizens, business interests and medical cannabis industry representatives.
The Custer City Council and the city’s planning committee will hold a joint meeting Monday at 5 p.m. at city hall to further discuss the issue.
In other news from the June 7 meeting, the council:
• Passed a resolution to continue the town archery program started last year, which augments the sharpshooting program that regulates the deer herd in town.
City planning administrator Tim Hartmann said the hunt went well last year when 12 hunters took seven deer from town.
Last year, the archers had to fill their municipal tag before they could fill other applicable licenses, which will not be the case this year.
Just as a year ago, hunters must possess a hunter safety education certificate and pass a proficiency test, along with attending a briefing and training.
There will be six hunting periods and four access zones, with 20-25 hunters allowed at a maximum. Zones are Rocky Knolls Golf Course, Big Rock Park and near the cemetery. The hunting periods will be for 14 days and run Oct. 18 through Dec. 26.
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance to change the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board to a committee that meets quarterly rather than monthly and will make recommendations to the council. The reason for the change, Mayor Corbin Herman said, is that the Harbach Park project will take all the money that would have been allocated to the board, so there wouldn’t be any new projects for the board to take on for some time.
• Approved a waterline extension quote for the community garden and ball field area, which, because it is on school property, will require an easement approved by the Custer School District Board of Education.
Cost of the Sidney Park Corridor water loop, as it is called, is around $20,000, of which $16,000 will be paid by the city and $3,400 by Custer Area Economic Development Corp.
• Approved the property transfer and quit claim  deed for the land swap between the city, Custer County Housing (CCH)  and Matt Hespen. At the center of the slowdown was the lack of a reversionary clause in the agreement.
A reversionary clause is a provision in a deed transfer where the property transferred is reverted to the grantor if a condition is violated. The city wanted verbiage in the agreement that if the housing does not come to fruition, any land it trades during the process returns to the city.
At the council’s Feb. 1 meeting, the council approved transfers of land and related documents to provide CCH with land to build affordable housing.
For the approval to be made, the city must transfer the “Coffin Pit” land (part of Homestead Addition Phase II, the steep, rocky land north of the football field) from the city to CCH, as well as approve and file the plat of Spring Subdivision Lots 4-6. That would be followed by the transfer of lots near the new hospital on which the new homes would be constructed, from owner Matt Hespen to CCH. In return, the Coffin Pit land would be transferred to Hespen and the city would then approve the annexation and development of the Sylvan Parks Property of Spring Subdivision lots four and five.
At the June 7 meeting the council approved the resolution authorizing the transfer after an executive session. Hartmann said after the meeting there is now an agreement between CCH and the city rather than a stipulation in the deed itself, and if the project falls through, the city would receive financial compensation from CCH for the land the city gave to Hespen.
“I think it’s a win for Custer City and Custer County,” said Matt Fridell of CCH.
• Learned the city the $335,000 it will receive  through the American Rescue Plan Act can be used toward its wastewater project.
• Learned from Herman that the lining in the city pool, which was installed in 1999 and was supposed to be a five-year fix, is on its last legs and this will likely be the last summer it holds water. The city will look at budgeting pool repairs when it begins work on its 2022 budget in the not-to-distant future.

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