Briefing: 
  • Two Old Town merchants want to open cannabis businesses. The city wants a permanent ban.
  • El Vado parking arrangement at botanic garden will stick to status quo
  • BioPark train track removal begins, but replacement tram is stuck in the U.K.
Two Old Town merchants want to open cannabis businesses. The city wants a permanent ban.
A temporary moratorium that prevents cannabis shops from setting up in Old Town well into 2022 only went into effect a few months ago, but already the city is moving to make the measure permanent.

Draft rules being circulated by the Keller administration would ban the sale of cannabis as well as commercial cultivation and "cannabis-derived products manufacturing" in the historic district, the borders of which are roughly Rio Grande, Central, Nineteenth, and Mountain (map).

The proposal has a long way to go before it becomes law. As part of a broader set of annual updates to the Integrated Development Ordinance - the city's main canon of land-use regulations - the rules will likely arrive at the Environmental Planning Commission in December or January before being taken up by the City Council in March, a process that could easily take a few additional months.

Opportunities for public comment will crop up at every turn, but so far, at least, the momentum seems to be on the side of a permanent ban.

"The sentiment of the public is generally in support of a prohibition of cannabis uses in Old Town," said Petra Morris, a City Council planner, at a recent information meeting on the matter. But she hastened to add that "it could change."

City Councilor Isaac Benton, who represents Old Town, said he had not heard a lot of comments on the matter either way, but what he had heard so far made him "inclined to continue the moratorium or make it permanent."

Meanwhile, an informal membership poll taken by the Historic Old Town Property Owners Association ran about three-to-one in favor of the ban, said Kathy Hiatt, the group's president.

The argument in favor of the prohibition tends to echo that of other land-use discussions both in Old Town and in other historic areas.

"I want to preserve the character and ambiance of this neighborhood where the past and present mingle in harmony," Old Town resident Sylvia Ramos wrote on an online forum set up by the city. "Cannabis sales and cultivation add nothing to the quality of life of the many people who live and work here."

Others take a more nuanced approach: "I would be disappointed if the only option that ever gets considered is to move from a temporary moratorium to a permanent ban," said Matt Celeskey, who is also the president of the West Park Neighborhood Association. "But more importantly, I think a well-considered solution would have to look at the bigger picture - what happens when you ban cannabis on only one side of Central? I don't think anyone is asking that, and certainly, no one is asking the people that live on the other side of the street."

While they have not yet made much of an impression on the rulemaking process, the idea of a permanent ban also has some fierce critics ready to argue that it amounts to the unfair stigmatization of a now-legal product and apart from that represents a missed economic opportunity - one that might not pass legal muster anyway.

"I think if there was a push to make that a permanent moratorium that would be met with lawsuits that would probably prevail," said Ben Lewinger, the executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Cities are allowed to impose zoning restrictions on cannabis sales, but the state legalization measure passed earlier this year stipulates that they be "reasonable," a hurdle that Lewinger argues the moratorium would not clear, "especially since there are bars in Old Town."

The city in recent years has loosened restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Old Town, allowing taprooms, wine tasting, and package sales that feature New Mexico-made products - legislation that Benton sponsored. It has, in turn, led to some new investments that seem to enjoy wide popularity: Ruidoso winery owner Jasper Riddle purchased the Plaza Don Luis complex just west of San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church in February and has spent most of the year renovating it, something he credits Benton and the new rules for having made possible. It is now home to two wine tasting rooms and a taproom.

But if all that ends up giving pro-cannabis lawyers more ammunition, look for the city to argue back that Old Town is a special case and always has been.

"The city has over the years treated Old Town differently in terms of the types of businesses allowed," spokesman Rick De Reyes told DAN. Even after the recently loosened restrictions, "not all alcohol uses are allowed," he noted, and the recommendation on cannabis "follows that logic."

Intricacies of zoning regulations aside, a permanent ban would still amount to "unequal oppression compared to alcohol," said Xyavyer Judkins-Cooper, who operates Blue Crow Seed and Plant Boutique, a shop specializing in tropical plants and curios on Charlevoix Street at the north end of Old Town. He hopes one day soon to open a dispensary and a consumption lounge in the area and also to sell cannabis seeds out of his shop.

"It'll come. It's going to happen. You can't stop it," he said. "Nothing unjust or illogical is permanent."

Judkins-Cooper is not the only one in Old Town looking to set up an area where people can consume cannabis. Nestor Lopez, who owns the Salvadoran eatery Gobble This, said he would also pursue such an arrangement for his café.

"That would be ideal," he said, depending on how the licensing process - which is still under development at the state level - goes.

(Some Gobble This Instagram posts have given others in Old Town the impression that it is already some variety of consumption lounge, but Lopez maintains that any such references concern cigarettes or his own personal use. "I do not sell infused food," he said.)

Consumption lounges are a relatively new feature of the American recreational cannabis scene, with New Mexico piloting them concurrently with California, Lewinger said. Besides providing a place to go for people who may be prevented from consuming cannabis at their residence, he argues that it also presents a singular opportunity for economic development in Old Town, with people making a lounge just one stop on a trip that could include a meal and some shopping.

"That's just going to increase foot traffic for all the other stores and businesses in the area," Lewinger said. "If you're talking about how to revitalize Old Town, they should be opening the doors to cannabis businesses."
Theater building owner: Movie production studios are coming
Following our story Friday about the closure of the Century 14 movie theater, building owner Jerry Mosher said he plans is to convert the 44,000 square feet of soon-to-be-vacant space into movie production studios. "We have a lot of interest in it, and I have three or four suitors, and we have three or four different people that are wanting to manage it," Mosher told KOB.
El Vado parking arrangement at botanic garden will stick to status quo
An attempt to expand parking options for El Vado patrons at the botanic garden's lot on the other side of Central has come to naught.

The city and developer Chad Rennaker had talked in recent months about expanding parking there to 10 or 10:30 p.m., Arts and Culture Department Director Shelle Sanchez said. But in the end, she said, "it was not something there was funding for ... It would take an additional security guard to keep the lot open later."

Rennaker concurred: "Unless and until we can work something out [that is] more comprehensive, I don't think paying for security to have patrons park in a fenced lot across the street is feasible."

El Vado patrons, can, however, park in the lot until it is closed at sunset, Sanchez said.

Parking at the complex has caused controversy in the nearby West Park neighborhood, where residents have complained about El Vado patrons taking up street spaces, parking illegally, and making noise.
BioPark train track removal begins, but replacement tram is stuck overseas
An idled piece of equipment could be seen over the bosque trail fence last week, midway through a job removing track around the botanic garden. Shelle Sanchez, the director of the city's Arts and Culture Department, said the tracks would be torn up in the next few months but that the train's replacement is presently waiting in line as part of the larger global shipping backlog.

"We have this very cool electric tram that's coming from Great Britain as soon as it can get on a ship," she said.
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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