Considering his disdain for recreational marijuana, it was thought that Mayor Steve Bach had to be behind the city of Colorado Springs' recent and failed efforts to close the downtown cannabis social club Studio A64.
Now, a series of partially redacted emails obtained from the city through an open-records request show a much wider effort, with months of work on the issue from multiple city departments. But once the city's Planning Commission gave the club its approval, Bach does seem to have been driving the appeals process.
The saga began March 12, 2013, when Sue Matz, an analyst in the city's Planning and Development department, forwarded a KOAA-TV story on KC Stark's cannabis club to planners Steve Tuck and Ryan Tefertiller. "I didn't think we had approved the MMJ club use in the City," she wrote. Responding an hour and a half later, Tuck wrote: "I would like to see their 'license.' I have consistently indicated the use is not permitted. I have discussed the interpretation with the City Attorney."
The TV story set off bells inside the Colorado Springs Police Department as well, with Deputy Chief Vince Niski emailing with then-City Attorney Chris Melcher, who seemed eager to act. "If a cease and desist is issued and not immediately complied with, will CSPD takes [sic] steps to close the establishment?" Melcher wrote March 12.
But nothing much happened until Aug. 27 of last year, when the city decided Code Enforcement should run point. Tom Wasinger, the head of enforcement, began working with the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence division to investigate the club; officers swung by undercover on Friday, Nov. 15. Likely, police were checking to see if any weed was being sold on premises, but after paying a $5 fee, officers only "observed the following activities: consumption of marijuana."
Six days later, Stark's landlord was served with the cease-and-desist notice. Stark appealed it Dec. 3, which brought a Feb. 20, 2014, meeting before the Planning Commission. There, things broke down after commissioners questioned city staff about where the complaint originated in the first place.
"In my experience, it's always been a [common] line that Code Enforcement is handled on a complaint basis," Commissioner Chuck Donley said, before voting with the majority to keep Studio A64 open. "It's possible that it could be argued that staff is the complainant — I haven't heard of that happening in the past."
But that was exactly what was happening, and now it was apparently happening under Bach's direction. "Hi Mayor," begins a Feb. 27 email from Peter Wysocki, the head of Planning. "Just want to confirm that you still want me to appeal" the Planning Commission's decision.
Almost 11 hours later, Bach responded: "Peter, wondering why do you feel the need to follow up? Yes, pls file the appeal poste [sic] haste." The mayor then emailed staff again the next day "just to confirm" that the appeal should proceed.
The Indy asked Bach why he was pushing for A64's closure, but chief communications officer Cindy Aubrey says in an email that the mayor was only following staff guidance. "The Mayor agreed to ask Council for clarification and that has occurred," she writes.
Which is where this 13-month-long mess finally ended, as Wysocki's letter to Stark makes clear.
"On April 22, 2014, the City Council heard and denied the City of Colorado Springs Administration's appeal," he wrote. "The Notice and Order [to cease and desist] has been overturned and Studio A64 is no longer required to comply with the stipulations set forth therein."
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