City Council OKs 1st reading of social host provision

1 vote left before ordinance is official

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In other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Craig City Council:

• Approved, 7-0, a second 60-day emergency moratorium on all new medical marijuana dispensaries.

Councilor Ray Beck said the city had no choice but to issue another moratorium because officials were waiting for further information from the city attorney.

City staff plan to submit a draft ordinance to the city Planning and Zoning Commission to review at its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Craig City Hall, 300 W. Fourth St.

Mayor Don Jones, who sits on planning and zoning, said the commission would be unable to reach a final decision next week but could probably approve something by the end of November.

The Council would then make a final approval in December.

City Attorney Kenny Wohl also said he now believes the city could force existing dispensaries to obey any new zoning regulations imposed on them with regard to the time, place and manner of the business' operation.

For instance, the city could regulate hours of operation, enforce setback distances from schools and other public buildings and require certain security measures.

However, Wohl added he does not think a court would allow the city to forcibly move an existing business if it did not meet location requirements. Specifically, city officials discussed the Craig Apothecary on Green Street, which is close to a public park and a day care.

• Discussed the introduction of a proposed noise ordinance that would enable city officials to deny noise permits. The ordinance is expected to return at the council's next meeting for first reading.

• Heard from Robert Ralston, of Steamboat Springs-based Robert Ralston & Associates, about his plans to remodel the City Hall basement.

The Council began discussing a remodel project last year.

Ralston said the main idea behind remodeling the basement is to turn what was once a jail for the Craig Police Department into office space, mainly for the parks and recreation department.

Diagrams presented at the meeting show a new reception area off the main foyer, a remodeling conference room and several new offices.

He added he plans to publish the drawings today for contractors to bid.

City Manager Jim Ferree said the city plans to use $100,000 of its own and $200,000 in Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant funds to pay for the project.

• Approved, 7-0, a special events permit for the Craig Chamber of Commerce's annual Crabfest, planned for Oct. 24 at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig.

The Craig City Council was split in its endorsement of a social host ordinance, but concern about underage drinking convinced the majority of city officials to support the proposal.

The City Council approved, 4-3, the first reading of an ordinance that would make it a municipal crime to provide a place for underage drinkers to consume alcohol.

Mayor Don Jones and councilors Jennifer Riley and Joe Herod voted in opposition. Councilors Byron Willems, Ray Beck, Gene Bilodeau and Terry Carwile voted in favor.

The ordinance must be approved on second reading at the council's meeting Oct. 27 before it is official.

Each of the council members who voted against the ordinance said they were not convinced it would curb underage drinking.

Riley said the ordinance still requires law enforcement to prove a person provided minors with a place to drink beyond a reasonable doubt, which might make it extremely difficult to prosecute someone.

"I wholeheartedly agree that we should take action to deter underage drinking," she said. "When my sister and I were in high school, there was actually an undercover officer in school, and he was doing investigations into alcohol and drug abuse. I would be in favor of something like that."

Jones and Herod said they thought current laws may be enough.

Several local residents, at least one of whom lives in Steamboat Springs, addressed the council before its vote. No one in the audience spoke against the proposal.

Marci Marumoto, 33, said a social host ordinance would accomplish its goal if one local parent decided against providing a place for minors to throw a party and drink.

"I have a 17-year-old niece, and I know how these kids are drinking," she said. "Taking their keys away may keep them from driving, but it does not prevent a kid from being a binge drinker and going to the (emergency room) to have their stomach pumped."

Another woman said parents seem to have no problem buying alcohol for teenagers in town because they've done it before and know nothing will happen to them.

Matt Beckett, Moffat County Grand Futures director, said there are statistics from counties in other states that show both emergency room visits and arrests for driving under the influence decreased after social host laws went into effect.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta also addressed the council in favor of a social host provision.

Although the ordinance would not change how police investigate underage drinking - for instance, officers would have to get a search warrant to enter someone's home - it allows them to attack the issue from one of the sources.

Adults who provide alcohol to minors are not that different from businesses that sell to minors, the chief said.

"I see a potential for a really mixed message from the council that we take a strong position on not selling alcohol to minors, but we're OK with people giving them a place to consume it," Vanatta said.

He referred to the council's decision earlier in the same meeting to deny one of five liquor license renewals on their agenda.

Safeway, which applied to renew its 3.2 percent beer liquor license, was denied because it was cited for selling alcohol to a minor in 2008, and no one from the store was there to explain what steps were taken to keep illegal sales from happening.

During the past two years, the council has denied liquor license renewals for businesses that previously violated liquor laws and do not personally attend city meetings concerning their license.

Safeway was one of four at the meeting that was cited last year for selling alcohol to a minor during an undercover Craig Police Department operation. Law enforcement sent minors into stores and ticketed those who sold alcohol.

Other businesses applying for renewals that also were cited in the same operation were Kum & Go, OP Bar & Grill and Fiesta Jalisco. All of those businesses had representatives present.

The council also renewed the license for Dark Horse Liquor, which was not cited last year for violating liquor laws.

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