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Colorado Springs tries to shut down 'liberty hall' Studio A64 

Stark opposition

The city of Colorado Springs is trying to close a downtown cannabis social club for a zoning violation.

It started with a Nov. 21 cease-and-desist notice to property owner Ken Brady, who leases downstairs space to the Triple Nickel Tavern and upstairs space to Studio A64. The latter drew the letter, which said "a marijuana smoking establishment is not an identified use ... nor is the use recognized as a permitted or a conditional use within the Zoning District."

This sent A64 owner KC Stark running to an 8:30 a.m. meeting of the Planning Commission last Thursday, where he rescheduled his appeal hearing for Feb. 20 because his attorney, noted local marijuana litigator Charles Houghton, was out of town. Should the commission decide against him at that time, and City Council afterward, Stark says he's happy to settle this in court.

"If we lose that one, we'll appeal it to the El Paso County courthouse," he said outside City Hall. "If we lose that one, we'll appeal it to the Colorado Supreme Court."

Part of the fervor stems from the club's role as a meeting place for advocates of cannabis and as one of the hubs for the pro-recreational-marijuana Every Vote Counts movement. "This is our liberty hall," wrote Meral Sarper, head of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, on Facebook and csindy.com. "We meet and organize here. People get inspired about their city (for once) here."

Planning Department director Peter Wysocki provided documentation of the case but did not respond to a follow-up email or calls.

Houghton's appeal reasons that Studio A64, which opened in February 2013, should be allowed because "it is simply not possible for any Zoning Code to outline any and all possible uses"; thus, a marijuana smoking club not being "an identified use" shouldn't be a problem.

Arvada attorney David A. Firmin thinks there's an even bigger hole in the city's case.

"If you look at the code itself, it says that unique or uncommon uses can be considered on a case-by-case basis," says Firmin, a partner at HindmanSanchez. "Problem is, it should've been referred a year ago when the club first opened." That it wasn't, he says, "would give it at least some standing in that it's an existing use that hasn't been addressed."

Stark does have a sales-tax license for his snacks and drinks. (No cannabis is sold on the property, only consumed by those who bring it.) Wysocki told KOAA-TV that his office never saw the application to review it for a zoning conflict.

Rob Tillery, owner of Club 710, says his social cannabis organization hasn't received anything from the city, but he understands the frustration. "It's against federal law to smoke [marijuana] in a park or near a school; it's against a city law to smoke in public; it's against a state law to smoke inside a nonsmoking place," he says. "So now you can buy it and you're legally allowed to use it, but just not allowed to use it anywhere?"

City Councilor Jill Gaebler sympathizes and says she would rather just fix the problem than kill the business. "I think it's an issue where the code needs to be changed," she says, "versus us denying a legal use of this space."

bryce@csindy.com

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