Proposed Site of THC of Yelm

Jeff Mahan plans to open THC of Yelm, his third marijuana retail store in Thurston County, in the vacant warehouse near the Yelm Safeway gas station and Rite-Aid within six months. The site has taken fire from the public and Yelm's other marijuana retailer, Tim Cronk, regarding safety concerns.

A second marijuana retailer plans to open in the vacant warehouse near the Yelm Rite-Aid and Safeway gas station within six months but has taken heat from the public and Yelm’s other marijuana retailer Tim Cronk, owner of the recently opened King Chronic.

Cronk along with  King Chronic employee Kelsey Osborne addressed the Yelm City Council last Tuesday night to express concern of a second retail store setting up shop within Yelm city limits. 

“Although we are meeting the minimum numbers that I thought we could do here in Yelm we are not doing numbers that would show us it could support more than one store,” Cronk said.

Cronk said he was not proposing the council create legislation to prevent another store or a limit to how many stores there can be in Yelm but argued the proposed site of the second retail store is “inappropriate.”

Cronk said in an interview that if a second store opens in Yelm, he would “lose a lot of money” and might sell the business. He said his store is doing about $300,000 per month in sales which is the benchmark for a profitable marijuana retailer, according to Cronk.

“I lived here for 25 years and my grandkids live in that neighborhood, Cronk said. “That’s why I chose the store to not impact neighborhoods and put it in a responsible area. I don’t know why they (city council) haven’t looked into it further so they can protect neighborhoods. It’s just mind boggling.”

State law requires marijuana retailers to have 1,000-foot buffer zones between any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library, or any game arcade that is not restricted to persons aged 21 years or older.

Cities have the authority to reduce the buffer zone down to 100 feet from the establishments listed excluding primary or secondary schools and public parks with playgrounds.

Last June, the city council reduced the buffer zone for marijuana retailers to a minimum of 700 feet from all of the establishments listed with the exception of primary or secondary schools and public parks with playgrounds — those must be 1,000 feet away.

The proposed location for THC of Yelm met all requirements even before the city reduced the buffer zone, according to Community Development Director Grant Beck. King Chronic required the city to reduce the buffer zone to accommodate for their location at 1110 East Yelm Avenue.

Cronk recommended to council that they reduce the buffer from 1,000 feet to 700 feet from non-accredited schools last June but advised them to create a new buffer from residential neighborhoods similar to Longview’s 250-foot buffer. THC of Yelm would be about 7 feet too close to a house with Cronk’s recommended buffer. Cronk did not propose a safer store location in Yelm.

THC of Yelm would be 620 feet away from Cronk’s location and 243 feet from the nearest house, according to Community Development Director Grant Beck.

“We are looking at numbers that would support one store, really so I would like you guys to look at things that you can do to make sure that if other stores do open that they are in a more retail setting,” Cronk said.

New potential owner Jeff Mahan responded to the concerns in an interview on Monday. He said he wasn’t bothered by another store in Yelm and said it will be good for consumers to have a choice and cited that “anybody can own a small business.”

“This is commercial property,” Mahan said. “It was designed for something like this.”

The site used to be home to a run-down brown mobile home, a small vacant warehouse and an unmaintained house. Marijuana retailer Mahan owns THC of Olympia and THC of Lacey. He said he wants to bring a store to Yelm because he grew up in the area and wants tax dollars to go toward his community.

“This store is going to be our showpiece, it may not look like much now but it is going to be one of the nicest buildings in Yelm,” Mahan said.

Mahan is currently working to clean the site and has already removed an old brown mobile home and multiple tons of garbage from the property. 

Not all members of the community are as enthusiastic as Mahan including Osborne who works at King Chronic and lives on Vancil Loop Southeast, a nearby neighborhood to the proposed location. Osborne created a petition and gained more than 100 signatures opposing the second store. She cited the nearest bus stop is about 600 feet from the proposed retailer and about 900 feet from the residential playground.

“A couple of our major concerns are how it’s going to affect our property values; we are concerned about traffic in the area and the safety of our kids,” Osborne said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said in January that marijuana retailers are well regulated and are in better compliance for preventing marijuana sales to youth than grocery stores are to selling alcohol to minors.

THC of Yelm would be directly across the street from the Safeway gas station and nearly 400 feet before the first section of Vancil Loop and nearly 1,000 feet before the second section of Vancil. Any increase in traffic would impact the area before entering the neighborhood behind Safeway.

There haven’t been any published studies for Washington state property values near marijuana retailers although a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s school of business found property values increase near pot shops. Residents within 0.1 miles from a marijuana retailer saw an 8.4 percent increase in property value in Colorado compared to the 6 percent average increase in property value between 2014 to 2016.

Mahan’s ministerial site plan was approved to convert an existing shop to retail sales. Obtaining the permit allowed Mahan to begin constructing his business May 15 of last year although he must improve the septic system, pave the parking lot and obtain stormwater permits. His ministerial permit was submitted and approved ahead of Tim Cronk’s, according to Beck.

Once a permit is submitted to the city, the business owners are vested and city council can not update restrictions or code to prevent a business, according to Beck.

“Council can’t do anything at this point,” Beck said. “The Mahan’s are vested, we cant put new restrictions after an application.”

The proposed site of THC of Yelm was considered by Cronk and said he was leasing the property if the city did not reduce the buffer to allow for the old Subway location. He said he turned away from the property due to kids safety and opened up shop in a location requiring less upgrades 620 feet away.

Beck said King Chronic was able to open sooner than THC of Yelm due to the extensive amount of work required to improve the THC of Yelm site.

In a September city council study session, Yelm Councilor Joe DePinto proposed to revise the city zoning restrictions that he voted to adopt a little more than two months prior. The councilor did not put forward a specific distance requirement from residential neighborhoods but said it was important to look at the safety of children.

“This is a free enterprise, nothing against them (King Chronic),” Mahan said. “This isn’t the back door market anymore, it’s storefront and a professional business with heavy regulations from the liquor control board.”

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