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.