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After split vote by St. Helens City Council, discussions will be continued next month

Following a split vote and a degree of uncertainty on whether to issue a permit to a pot shop on the corner of St. Helens Street and 1st Street, the St. Helens City Council will continue deliberations next month, city staff explained.

During a city council work session Wednesday, Aug. 15, applicant Robert Lee and building owner Robert Lucas appealed to the city for a conditional use permit to open a retail marijuana shop in a building that once housed law offices.

Lee, who was initially denied a conditional use permit for a dispensary at 100 St. Helens Street by a 3-2 vote of the planning commission in July, appealed to the city council last week. While the council had a quorum of four members present, the council reached a tie vote of 2-2 during deliberations leaving the question, "What now?" unanswered.

Councilor Keith Locke was absent due to a family emergency.

City Planner Jacob Graichen explained during the appeal that the process allows the council to review the application de novo, meaning the council is making an entirely new decision on whether or not a permit should be issued. Graichen explained on Monday afternoon, Aug. 20, the council would likely continue discussions next month on Sept. 19, rather than determine the appeal simply died for lack of a majority vote.

Locke will review information submitted into the record before the council's next discussion on the issue.

Lee and building owner Robert Lucas were both at the public hearing last week. They argued that the pot shop was an allowable business use, and according to state and local restrictions, no businesses with existing permitted uses nearby prohibited the shop from being approved.

The planning commission initially denied the application because of the proximity to a nearby movie theater and church, offers child care services, but is not a daycare.

Residents who spoke in opposition during last week's hearing stated that the riverfront district is frequently used by families and young children for various events, and the business could potentially interfere.

During deliberations, Councilor Susan Conn and Mayor Rick Scholl voted in favor of granting the permit, because there was no land use rules that could apply to prohibit the permit. Scholl at one point in the discussion noted that recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Oregon.

"It's time to get rid of that stigmatism [sic]," Scholl said, noting that roughly 30 states have a medical marijuana program.

He also noted that children could get "illegal drugs from the neighbors down the street," and that as a landscaper, he's seen marijuana plants growing in "your neighborhoods."

Councilors Ginny Carlson and Doug Morten argued in opposition, saying the business doesn't comply with the overarching vision for the area and desire to maintain

a family friendly atmos-phere.

"Based on the comprehensive plan and as good stewards and torch bearers of the future, this is not in the spirit of that," Carlson noted.

Graichen explained that split votes like this one — where a quorum is present but a tie vote is cast — don't happen often. While the planning commission has "beefed up" procedures and established a way to ensure that a vote can be passed, the city council has not because of the infrequent nature of this type of situation, he added.

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