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Surrounding the town of Bayfield is a 3-mile buffer where marijuana production is restricted, courtesy of an agreement reached between the town and La Plata County. But as of Tuesday, that agreement is up for debate.

Resolution 311, passed in 2013, successfully asked La Plata County to ban commercial marijuana production outside of town limits. It does not regulate hemp production. Town representatives asked community members for feedback on possibly revising those restrictions during a public hearing Tuesday. The meeting was held outside, with masks, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The community’s reaction was divided between those who wanted changes and those who preferred keeping existing restrictions.

“It’s a great time to revisit it. We’ve had a number of years of experience with legal marijuana,” said Nancy Dosdall, a contract planner for Bayfield. “The idea here is to consider … should that be changed at all?”

Resolution 311 passed less than a year after Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012. The resolution asked La Plata County to ban any commercial marijuana land uses within the 3-mile radius, including marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail facilities. The county complied.

At the time, the town stated concerns about law enforcement capacity and said marijuana uses were incompatible with the town’s comprehensive plan. The restrictions in the radius area impact 1,209 privately owned land parcels in the county.

Now, the county is redoing its land-use codes, and hemp growing establishments in the area have expressed interest in marijuana cultivation, according to a staff report by Dosdall.

A La Plata County Sheriff’s Office representative also said most law enforcement activity in the area related to marijuana dealt with illegal grows or false alarms at legal grows, according to the staff report.

Annie Chism, a county resident, said she already lives near a hemp farm and, with young children at the house, appreciated the sheriff’s extra patrols in the area.

Three people submitted comments electronically wanting to maintain current restrictions.

“I’m asking you to please make sure you do not allow marijuana grows any closer than they currently are in the town,” said Chris Bernard, a Bayfield resident, in an email to the town. He was concerned about a “slippery slope,” and said the increase in “homelessness and filth” coincided with the legalization of marijuana in Durango.

Steve Salka, a county resident near Bayfield and former Durango director of utilities, said marijuana didn’t have any effect on homelessness in Durango. Homelessness was an issue in and of itself.

“If we live in the county, we shouldn’t have to abide by what’s going on in Bayfield,” Salka said, later adding that county residents don’t get to vote in town affairs.

Kevin Waing, who owns a hemp farm off U.S. Highway 160 near Bayfield, spoke in support of lifting restrictions, wanting more financial flexibility to make a living.

Town representatives suggested a menu of possible revisions for the resolution, ranging from no change at all to “choose your own option.” The town could also choose to shrink the restricted zone.

Any changes to the 3-mile radius would not change the existing ban on commercial marijuana cultivation inside town boundaries, said Katie Sickles, town manager.

Changes also would not affect existing restrictions on retail uses, like dispensaries, within the radius area. Only marijuana cultivation operations would be allowed in the radius area.

Any changes would be several months away – after review and approval by the Bayfield Planning Commission, town board and La Plata County government.

“I’m glad we had the public hearing, because I think there’s a lot of confusion about what this is actually about,” said Bayfield Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington. “To me this is more of a land-use issue than a marijuana issue.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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