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Tie vote delays rezoning for Jackpot cannabis store

ELKO, Nev. — With a tie vote, the Elko County Planning Commission has stalled a proposal to rezone a site in Jackpot as an adult cannabis district for construction of a retail marijuana store, but there are options for later action on the rezoning effort.

The next step for Spence Property Group’s rezoning request is a either a new vote at the Dec. 17 planning commission meeting or an appeal of the tie vote to Elko County Commissioners, according to Deputy District Attorney Rand Greenburg.

“At this point, I am not sure if we will have it go before the board again or if it will just go on appeal to the county commission to be determined,” he said Friday.

The tie vote came even after the meeting’s chairman, Mark Wetmore, told planning commissioners that the issue of whether they approve the sale of cannabis is not up to them, rather they need to focus on the rezoning question. The county has already approved an ordinance allowing cannabis sales in Jackpot, which is on the Nevada-Idaho border about 45 minutes south of Twin Falls.

He said the planning commissioners “are stuck in the middle of this.”

“I don’t see how you can deny it,” said Commissioner Mike Judd at the Thursday meeting. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Commissioner David Hough called one of the planning staff’s reasons for recommending approval of the zoning change “the weakest argument I’ve seen in my life.” He was referring to the statement in the staff’s report that “the opening of this retail cannabis store is expected to greatly improve the economic impacts caused by COVID-19 to the community of Jackpot.”

Hough said COVID “is not going to be with us forever.”

Elko County Commissioner Jon Karr said “Jackpot is truly a town in dire straits. COVID has just decimated the gambling economy and on top of that Indian casinos in the area” hurt Jackpot, which he said was hit even worse than Reno or Las Vegas.

Karr said he is not in favor of marijuana but voted to allow marijuana sales in Jackpot because of the community’s needs. He also told the planning board that they could expect a big crowd from Jackpot for the next vote on the rezoning. Karr said he came to the meeting to answer questions.

Planning Commissioners Wetmore, Judd and Dena Hartley voted for the rezoning, while Jack Larason, Richard Genseal and Hough voted nay. John Geary was absent.

“You’ve had your chance,” Greenburg said after the vote Thursday, telling the planning commissioners they would need to have a full quorum of seven at the next meeting to break the tie.

Spence Property is asking to rezone 20,675 square feet of land across from the Four Jacks hotel and casino from highway services and tourist commercial to the cannabis district, and Senior Planner Corey Rice said Thrive Cannabis Marketplace is looking to lease the site from Spence Property for the retail store.

He said originally the State of Nevada allowed two retail marijuana licenses for Elko County, and one of those is already in use in West Wendover. The other one is held by Thrive, which planned to open a dispensary in Carlin but is looking at Jackpot. The tribal marijuana shop in Elko is under a separate entity.

Rice said that unless the state grants more licenses for Elko County, Thrive holds the only remaining license.

Karr said the plan for Thrive to use its license in Jackpot instead of Carlin is a result of Jackpot’s “cries for help.”

Before the vote, Robert Howard of RH Construction answered one concern about whether the proposed marijuana shop would be too close to a school. He said a professional survey has already found that the school district is outside the 1,000-foot required radius.

After the tie vote, Howard addressed another concern about whether the marijuana store would be too close to a residential area. He said the owner of the land to be rezoned owns the remaining land in the parcel along U.S. Highway 93 and could move the modular homes nearby.

Howard, who said he was speaking for Brent Spence of Spence Property, also told commissioners the cannabis store would be an anchor for future development that might include a sandwich shop.

“Keep this in mind for the next time this zoning comes up,” Howard said.

Before the tie vote, commissioners agreed to waive a preliminary hearing for Spence Property and go directly to a public hearing on the rezoning request. A vote in favor of the rezoning would have made the cannabis district official without further action.

Thrive will still need approval from the Elko County Board of Commissioners, however, for a business license for a retail cannabis shop.

“The county commission still needs to pass a resolution approving the fee amounts for the business application fee and work cards, which will occur on December 2nd or 3rd,” Greenburg said Friday. “Also, the county commission approves all applications for marijuana dispensaries.”

Commissioner Hartley asked Greenburg whether the planning board had any liability because of the tie vote, if Spence Property met all the rezoning requirements, and his answer was that the board has no liability but the property owner has the right to appeal the decision.

Uncovering history: Twin Falls couple gives new life to old building while preserving its story

TWIN FALLS — How do we honor our history while thinking ahead to our future? It’s not an impossible mission, historic preservationists say.

Historic preservation begins with a story.

“It’s not just buildings,” said Samra Culum, chairwoman of the Twin Falls City Historic Preservation Commission. “It’s the story we tell about ourselves.”

Lisa and Dave Buddecke agree.

While their building at Second Avenue and Hansen Street South doesn’t qualify for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, its walls spoke loudly the first time they entered the old Salvation Army Thrift Store.

“We climbed up and looked above the white drop ceilings already there and found hidden wood ceilings and a host of odd metal structures and beams in the ceilings and decided we needed to buy this building,” Lisa Buddecke said. “As the new owners of this old building, we thought it was important to honor its history.”


Owner Lisa Buddecke shows off some of the artifacts discovered while renovating the building that will become the 2nd South Market on July 10 in Twin Falls.

After purchasing the building, longtime Twin Falls residents began telling them about German immigrant Ernest Krengel’s legacy. The Buddeckes realized then the old building was more than just an empty thrift store.

A trip to the Twin Falls Public Library’s Idaho Room brought the building’s history into focus.

Krengel first developed the property in 1907, constructing a blacksmith shop and small hardware store. Krengel died in 1912 and his son Charles took over, expanding the business in 1926.

Krengel Machine Co. runs an ad in the Twin Falls Daily News. The building is currently under construction and will be home to the 2nd South Market. 

Mixing the future with the past

When the Buddeckes started to remodel the 13,000-square-foot building, they were astounded at what they found hidden under the floor and above the ceilings. The giant rafters and original skylights they uncovered convinced them to alter their original design plans.

General contractor Creative Carpentry quickly got on board.

“Historic buildings not only add richness to a city’s identity,” Lisa Buddecke said, “they offer a unique feel and vibe to a modern business that is not easily replicated.”


Artifacts discovered during renovations of the building that will become the 2nd South Market sit on display July 10 in Twin Falls.


Artifacts discovered during renovations of the building that will become the 2nd South Market sit on display July 10 in Twin Falls.

While on vacation in Denver a while back, Dave Buddecke wandered into an outdoor food market where customers purchased meals and libations from numerous vendors, then mingled with other guests.

“This could work in Twin Falls,” he thought to himself.

Using tax breaks provided in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Buddeckes created a wide-open space in the building that will house various food and beverage vendors. In addition, they designed a 14,700-square-foot outdoor fenced space for additional outdoor seating, private events, open-air markets and corn hole games. A stage is planned for live music and other amenities.

The 2nd South Market is the first “Opportunity Zone” project to open in Idaho and the state’s third Opportunity Zone investment, Lisa Buddecke said.

The city Historic Preservation Commission applauds such grass-root efforts to preserve historic buildings, Culum said, even if the buildings are not listed on the National Register.

Historical trend grows

“I think old buildings attract tourists,” Culum told the Times-News. “Downtowns are the heart of a city, I think because of their unique identities.”

Twin Falls is no different, she said.

“(The recent revitalization of) downtown reaffirms a sense of place,” Culum said. “It’s uniquely Twin Falls, Idaho.”

The city Historic Preservation Commission — a certified local government, known as a “CLG” — is tasked with preserving that sense of place, she said. While having oversight over three of the four historic districts in the original Twin Falls townsite, the commission also promotes programs that bring historical awareness.

One such program is a sign project for historic homes in the proposed Avenues Historic District within the northern triangle of the original Twin Falls townsite. Neighbors in the group are seeking to create the new district to get their historic homes on the National Register.

The first sign was installed in July at Robin Kirby’s home, the Magel House, built in 1915 on Eighth Avenue East. The sign, similar to others celebrating the town’s and the county’s history, was sponsored by historian Paul Smith’s nonprofit group Preservation Twin Falls.


Robin Kirby stands next to the new historical sign in her front yard July 28 at the Magel House in Twin Falls. Robin Kirby and others are working with the Twin Falls City Historic Preservation Commission to create a fourth historic district within the original Twin Falls townsite. ‘We hope this will be the first of many historical signs in the North end of the Northern Triangle of the Twin Falls Original Townsite,’ Kirby says.


The Magel House sits on display Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Twin Falls.

Kate Lopez, a homeowner in the group, has been advocating for educational campaigns for years.

“We really think that most people in Twin Falls love these avenue homes on the tree-lined streets,” Lopez said. “We want to show how the earlier inhabitants expressed themselves in their architecture.

“We want to see this area revitalized — not devolved — through the improvement and maintenance of these historic homes.”


Owner Dave Buddecke talks about his plans for the 2nd South Market on July 10 in Twin Falls.


Mychel Matthews interviews owners Lisa and Dave Buddecke on July 10 at the 2nd South Market in Twin Falls.

Biden calls for COVID-19 aid

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is pushing Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 assistance before he takes office, saying in a meeting Friday with the top Democrats in the House and Senate that such a package should be approved during the lame-duck session.

Biden held his first in-person meeting since winning the presidential election with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, hosting them at his makeshift transition headquarters in a downtown Wilmington, Delaware, theater.

Biden’s new governing team is facing intense pressure to approve another coronavirus relief bill and come up with a clear plan to distribute millions of doses of a prospective vaccine. That comes as Biden is just days away from unveiling the first of his Cabinet picks, which are subject to Senate confirmation.

“In my Oval Office, mi casa, you casa,” Biden, who sat with Schumer, Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, all wearing masks and spaced out around a bank of tables, said during the brief portion of the meeting journalists witnessed. “I hope we’re going to spend a lot of time together.”

According to a readout of the meeting later released by Biden’s team, the group “agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame duck session,” which is the period after Election Day but before Congress adjourns for the year.

It added that the “package should include resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments trying to keep frontline workers on the payroll, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable health care for millions of families.”

The sense of urgency in the meeting was echoed in comments earlier Friday by Biden transition aide Jen Psaki, who warned that “there’s no more room for delay.”

Pelosi said before meeting with Biden and Schumer that she’d make clear “the urgency of crushing the virus,” and how to use the lame-duck session to approve COVID-19 relief and legislation that can keep the government funded.

But prospects for new virus aid this year remain uncertain. Pelosi said talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP leadership on Thursday did not produce any consensus on an aid package.

“That didn’t happen, but hopefully it will,” she said.

Also Friday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, proposed that Congress shift $455 billion of unspent small-business lending funds toward a new COVID-19 aid package. His offer came after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Psaki said Biden, Pelosi and Schumer had already begun working together on COVID-19 relief even before Friday’s meeting.

“They’re in lockstep agreement that there needs to be emergency assistance and aid during the lame-duck session to help families, to help small businesses,” she said. “There’s no more room for delay, and we need to move forward as quickly as possible.”

Biden, Pelosi and Schumer also discussed the agenda for the first 100 days of the Biden presidency, “including taking aggressive action to contain COVID-19, providing resources to small businesses, families, schools, and state and local governments to power our economic recovery, and investing in the middle class,” according to the readout.

President Donald Trump continues to block a smooth transfer of power to Biden, refusing to allow his administration to cooperate with the transition team. Specifically, the Trump administration is denying Biden access to detailed briefings on national security and pandemic planning that leaders in both parties say are important for preparing Biden to govern immediately after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Biden is moving quickly to fill out his administration and could name top leaders for his Cabinet as early as next week.

Biden told reporters on Thursday that he’s already decided on who will lead the Treasury Department. That pick, along with his nominee for secretary of state, may be announced before Thanksgiving, according to people close to the transition who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Meanwhile, Mnuchin denied on Friday that he is attempting to limit Biden’s options for reviving the pandemic-damaged economy by ending several emergency loan programs being run by the Federal Reserve.

Mnuchin said the programs were not being heavily utilized and Congress can make better use of the money by re-allocating it toward small-business grants and extended unemployment assistance.

“We’re not trying to hinder anything,” Mnuchin said in a CNBC interview. “We don’t need this money to buy corporate bonds. We need this money to go help small businesses that are still closed.”

Mnuchin has argued that the decision will allow Congress to re-appropriate $455 billion to other coronavirus programs.

After initially objecting to the move, which will end the Fed’s corporate credit, municipal lending and Main Street Lending programs as of Dec. 31, the Fed softened its stance.

The Fed released a letter Friday from Chairman Jerome Powell in which he said the central bank would comply with Mnuchin’s request to close out the emergency loan programs and return the unused money appropriated by Congress to Treasury.

Boise State safety JL Skinner (0) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass last week in the Broncos’ 52-21 win over Colorado State.

Pfizer seeks emergency vaccine use

Pfizer formally asked U.S. regulators Friday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic — but not until after a long, hard winter.

The action comes days after Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study.

The companies said that protection plus a good safety record means the vaccine should qualify for emergency use authorization, something the Food and Drug Administration can grant before the final testing is fully complete. In addition to the FDA submission, they have already started “rolling” applications in Europe and the U.K. and intend to submit similar information soon.

With the coronavirus surging around the U.S. and the world, the pressure is on for regulators to make a speedy decision.

“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert said on the eve of Pfizer’s announcement, adding that it’s too early to abandon masks and other protective measures. “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come.”

Meanwhile, the surging coronavirus is taking an increasingly dire toll across the U.S. just as a vaccine appears close at hand, with the country now averaging over 1,300 COVID-19 deaths per day — the highest level since the calamitous spring in and around New York City.

The overall U.S. death toll has reached about 254,000, by far the most in the world. Confirmed infections have eclipsed more than 11.8 million, after the biggest one-day gain on record Thursday — almost 188,000. And the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 hit another all-time high at more than 80,000.

With health experts deeply afraid Thanksgiving travel and holiday gatherings next week will fuel the spread of the virus, many states and cities are imposing near-lockdowns or other restrictions. California ordered a 10 p.m.-to 5-a.m. curfew starting Saturday, covering 94% of the state’s 40 million residents.

The Texas border county of El Paso, where more than 300 people have died from COVID-19 since October, is advertising jobs for morgue workers capable of lifting bodies weighing 175 pounds more. Officials are offering more than $27 an hour for work described as not only physically arduous but “emotionally taxing as well.”

The county had already begun paying jail inmates $2 an hour to help move corpses and has ordered at least 10 refrigerated trucks as morgues run out of room.

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are at their highest level since late May, when the Northeast was emerging from the first wave of the crisis. They peaked at about 2,200 a day in late April, when New York City was the epicenter and bodies were being loaded onto refrigerated trucks by forklift.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ruled out another shutdown and singled out El Paso county leaders for not enforcing restrictions already in place. The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, likened the county’s chief administrator to a “tyrant” after Paxton won an appeals court ruling blocking local leaders from shutting down gyms and other nonessential businesses.

Friday’s emergency use filing sets off a chain of events as the FDA and its independent advisers debate if the shots are ready. If so, still another government group will have to decide how the initial limited supplies are rationed out to anxiously awaiting Americans.

How much vaccine is available and when is a moving target, but initial supplies will be scarce and rationed. Globally, Pfizer has estimated it could have 50 million doses available by year’s end.

About 25 million may become available for U.S. use in December, 30 million in January and 35 million more in February and March, according to information presented to the National Academy of Medicine this week. Recipients will need two doses, three weeks apart. The U.S. government has a contract to buy millions of Pfizer-BioNTech doses, as well as other candidates than pan out, and has promised shots will be free.

Not far behind is competitor Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine. Its early data suggests the shots are as strong as Pfizer’s, and that company expects to also seek emergency authorization within weeks.

The public’s first chance to see how strong the evidence really is will come Dec. 10 at a public meeting of the FDA’s scientific advisers.

So far, what’s known is based only on statements from Pfizer and BioNTech. Of 170 infections detected to date, only eight were among people who’d received the actual vaccine and the rest had gotten a dummy shot. On the safety side, the companies cite results from 38,000 study participants who’ve been tracked for two months after their second dose. That’s a milestone FDA set because historically, vaccine side effects don’t crop up later than that.

“We’ll drill down on these data,” said FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.