FORT BRAGG, 3/2/22 — The Fort Bragg City Council voted unanimously to extend the city’s temporary moratorium on new cannabis dispensaries during their regularly scheduled meeting Monday, March 1, but not for nearly as long as city staff advised. The council also struck down (or vacated) the development permit previously approved for a proposed Grocery Outlet at the request of the project applicant, who is responding to threats of litigation with plans to conduct an Environmental Impact Review (EIR), and then resubmit a new application.
The first moratorium on approval of dispensary permit applications was unanimously passed as an urgency ordinance Sept. 27, 2021. This gave the council time to review and possibly revise their ordinance after concerns were raised about two applications for Sunshine Holistics at 144 N. Franklin St. that were denied by the planning commission, according to a staff report. The moratorium was extended four additional months on Nov. 8, 2021, then again Monday evening. By the time it expires mid-April the moratorium will have been in place roughly six months. Meanwhile, cannabis businesses stuck in the pipeline are facing costly delays before they can open.
“It’s essentially a death sentence for us, because we’re paying dead rent on a building that we can’t open a business in and we’ve already been doing that for a very long time,” Angelica Sanchez, spokeswoman for Perfect Union, said during public comment.
Brandy Moulton, CEO of the Sovereign dispensary just outside Fort Bragg city limits and the applicant behind Sunshine Holistics, urged the city not to extend the moratorium — pointing out the high number of empty retail storefronts in town.
“I think it sends the message again to the public and the business community that this council is not business friendly,” Mayor Bernie Norvell said in agreement. “We put them in this spot.”
Norvell added that he shared Moulton’s sentiment about empty retail storefronts, but ultimately moved to extend the moratorium 45 days while the matter is referred back to the planning commission. Councilman Lindy Peters concurred and the motion passed unanimously.
“We actually made some progress on cannabis,” Norvell said. “I’m sure the world will be shocked.”
Elsewhere on the agenda, the council also vacated their prior approvals of a coastal development permit to build a new Grocery Outlet on three parcels in the 800 block of S. Franklin Street. They did so at the request of the project applicant, BRR Architecture, who is facing a legal challenge to the mitigated negative declaration (MND) associated with the development.
A MND typically endeavors to prove that no significant risk of environmental damage is presented by a proposed project, and this one was approved by the planning commission on June 9, 2021, but a lawsuit was filed (Leslie Kashiwada vs. City of Fort Bragg) challenging the MND. A lawyer for BRR told the council that his clients now plan to conduct an EIR and re-file.
“It looks like perhaps the path to success is shorter by coming back and doing an EIR than to fight in the courts for two or three years or more over the mitigated negative declaration,” said attorney Jim Moose.
Councilman Peters said he supports the project “100 percent” citing past public comment from community members who want to see the new grocery store open for business. He also predicted further legal challenges, even if the EIR is thorough. The council granted BRR’s request, however, and vacated the existing application.
Mayor Bernie Norvell said at the outset of the meeting that with new state and federal guidance with regard to Covid-19, the City of Fort Bragg will be returning to in-person council meetings in April after two years online. Several members of the public spoke out in support of in-person meetings during public comment. The council plans to discuss specifics like staffing requirements and cost estimates associated with the change at their next regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, March 14. The next meeting of the planning commission is scheduled for 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 9. Meeting agendas and live video can be found on the city’s website.