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Town raises a stink; trustees don’t buy it

By Megan Tackett 
Sopris Sun Staff 


Many on the Board of Trustees presumed the public hearing would be relatively straightforward: The Laughing Dog Group, which manages a marijuana infused products (MIP) facility at 500 Buggy Circle, has been noncompliant regarding managing odors. The town was officially requesting that the board, therefore, revoke the company’s special use permit that allows Laughing Dog to do business in the marijuana industry.

After hearing all witness testimonies and public comment, however, it became clear that the case wasn’t so clear. Ultimately, the board voted unanimously that the town prosecutor will negotiate with Laughing Dog owner Steve Garcia and other building tenants — primarily David Zamansky, owner of neighboring Novus Glass, who has made most of the odor complaints over the last 16 months — regarding stipulations to allow the businesses to coexist in an acceptable, compliant manner. Those negotiations will be reviewed at the board’s Nov. 14 meeting, pending renewal of Garcia’s medical and recreational marijuana licenses by their Oct. 27 expiration date.

“We don’t want conflict; we want to coexist,” Garcia said. “That’s all we want to do.”

Zamansky, for his part, concluded his testimony by adding, “I have no problem with Mr. Garcia’s business, just the odor. It’s like a phantom. It affects my business, and I hope something can be done about it and not have Mr. Garcia lose his business.”

Had the board decided to revoke Garcia’s special use permit, that’s effectively what would have happened.

“Without a special use permit, you don’t have a [marijuana] license,” Town Clerk Cathy Derby said.

At the conclusion of its Oct. 10 meeting, the board deliberated the fate of Garcia’s business, including the fate of his employees, three of whom advocated for their employer during public comment. The board made specific recommendations regarding areas it would like to see explored in future tenant negotiations that will include long-term, ongoing maintenance contracts and third-party audits.

Several town staff have worked to field and manage the numerous odor complaints. One incident in particular on Aug. 21 involved three city employees. That day, it appeared an air-conditioning unit was blowing odorous air outside the facility.

“It was a distinct, strong smell,” Town Manager Jay Harrington said, though he acknowledged that he knew of Garcia’s previous endeavors to mitigate the offending aroma. “From my perspective, to then directly vent air conditioning outside and blow distinct marijuana smell out of the building seemed to be completely contrary to the efforts to control the odor. But I know that there had been efforts made to date to try to be compliant.”

Not everyone felt that the issues were completely limited to noncompliance.

“This is a tenant issue,” said Scott Duryea, vice president of Rudd Construction and manager of 500 Buggy Circle, adding that Novus Glass has a history of complaints against neighboring tenants that predates Laughing Dog. “It used to be the welding shop … before that, there was an automotive shop … before that, there was a motorcycle shop,” he said. “This is a tenant conflict that I think can be remedied pretty easily.”

The possibility of underlying tenant conflict is exactly why Trustee Marty Silverstein pushed for third-party audits in the board’s recommendations. “I want to get away from this tenant thing,” he said.

“I think some of this comes down to the risk that we — we being the previous board — accepted when we decided to allow MIPs in the town limits,” Mayor Dan Richardson said. “As much as I would like to say that it can be cut and dry, that the code says, ‘thou shalt not allow odors to go into your neighbors,’ I’m not sure that ... what we’re finding is, that may not be possible,” he continued. “To me, in order to revoke a special use permit, in this case, I think there would have to be clear negligence, and I’m not seeing that.”

“I would like to give one more opportunity for [compliance issues] to be taken very seriously by every employee in the company, by all of the management, by the owners of the building to get some of those tenants together and try to do whatever they can to really resolve some of the issues,” Trustee Heather Henry said. “And let’s give enough time and opportunity to do that. I’m not prepared to sort of pull that rug out from somebody tonight,” she said, acknowledging that revoking the special use permit would put Laughing Dog out of business.