City prepares for medical cannabis law, passes act unanimously

MORGANTOWN — Three new land uses tied to implementation of the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act were unanimously passed on first reading during Tuesday’s regular Morgantown City Council Meeting.

Morgantown Development Services Director Chris Fletcher said the city is being proactive in its approach after lessons learned from the 2001 legalization and rollout of limited video lottery establishments.

“Most, if not all, municipalities across the state did not properly track, plan or prepare for the state’s implementation of the legalization of video lottery establishments,” Fletcher said, noting the zoning regulations passed by many cities to accommodate LVLs ended up creating a number of legal, pre-existing nonconforming uses.

The medical cannabis act creates three new land uses:

  • Growers — Permitted in industrial (I-1) zoning districts. Limited to 10 firms and 20 facilities statewide.
  • Processor — Permitted in industrial (I-1) and shopping center (B-5) districts. Limited to 10 firms statewide.
  • Dispensary — Permitted in service business (B-2) and shopping center (B-5) districts.

Limited to five in Region II, a 10-county zone that includes Monongalia County.

Fletcher said his office was also prompted to take up the matter after being contacted by multiple potential dispensary establishments seeking zoning guidance.

Medical cards allowing patients access to medical cannabis products will be available on or after July 1, 2019.

The additions to city zoning code came with the recommended approval of the city’s planning commission.

Council also moved a zoning reclassification request by Chabad of Morgantown, at 221 Willey St., on for second reading.

It was explained that the requested change — from residential business (B-1) to general business (B-4) — came with the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation to deny.

City Attorney Ryan Simonton suggested council simply vote to move the matter to second reading to allow for a public hearing on the issue at council’s Oct. 16 regular meeting.

The previous owner of the property had the same request denied in 2011.

Fletcher said the planning commission’s reasoning for recommending denial is threefold: There are other viable options that have not been explored; the B-1 zoning classification is more in line with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for that area; and the building on the site is in the National Register of Historic Places.

In other news, council:

  • Voted 6-1 to allow the city manager to enter into a contract with Wellbeing Solutions, owned by Colleen Harshbarger, who chairs the Morgantown Health and Wellness Commission.

    The contract is not to exceed $12,000 and will charge Harshbarger with leading and overseeing efforts by the city to achieve the Blue Zone public health designation.

    City Manager Paul Brake said the contract will likely entail 15-20 hours weekly through October and 10-15 hours weekly in November.

    Councilor Mark Brazaitis voted against the agreement, noting he has issues with the for-profit status of the Blue Zone Project and questions Harshbarger’s ability to lead the effort.

  • Voted 5-2 against a request by Brazaitis to discuss using the city’s Home Rule status to force downtown bars to close earlier.

    Councilor Rachel Fetty joined Brazaitis in voting to put the matter on the upcoming committee of the whole agenda.

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