NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council is poised to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in commercial areas throughout New Port Richey, with the exception of downtown.
During a meeting this week, the council voted 4-0 to approve on first reading a medical marijuana ordinance that would lift a moratorium on dispensaries. The council had established the moratorium while waiting for the Florida Legislature to hash out rules and regulations for medical marijuana after voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 to the state Constitution last November.
The ordinance would also allow for medical marijuana dispensaries in nearly every part of the city short of areas with residential or downtown district zoning. It means such businesses would be able to open in all areas with commercial or light industrial zoning. A second reading is planned for Aug. 15.
As part of the ordinance, the city would also ban any new pharmacies in the downtown district, as new state laws governing medical marijuana mandate that all dispensaries be treated by local jurisdictions as pharmacies.
The downtown district is a small part of the city that roughly runs along Main Street east from Madison Street west to U.S. 19 and from Missouri Avenue north to Circle Boulevard. Currently, there are two pharmacies in the downtown district, including a Walgreens at U.S. 19 and Main Street, that would be grandfathered in by the ordinance.
Council members praised the ordinance as being welcoming to medical marijuana businesses while protecting the downtown area and preserving its character. A separate ordinance would allow the city to establish development guidelines for dispensaries that would be reviewed by the council on a case-by-case basis.
"I think this covers my concerns as far as the immediate downtown and gives as wide an opportunity as far as the placement of these things," Mayor Rob Marlowe said of potential dispensaries.
While a ban may be coming on pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries downtown, craft beer could be headed to the city's hub. The council unanimously approved on first reading a brewpub-microbrewery ordinance.
The ordinance would allow for craft beer pubs to open in the downtown district and in commercial areas, and beer-making businesses known as micro breweries to operate in areas zoned highway and light industrial. City staffers also will look at adding language that could allow "nano-breweries" downtown, which would allow a business to make and serve smaller amounts of beer than a micro brewery.
In other business, a proposal for a Family Dollar store along a key corridor leading into the city at Gulf Drive and Grand Boulevard was swiftly shot down, even though city staffers said the property met the requirements for rezoning. Council members said Gulf Drive, in its current condition, could not handle the traffic the store would generate and, overall, the store was not consistent with redevelopment efforts to make the city more walkable and attractive to young professionals.
"In my opinion, it's not the direction we are going in the city," said Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey.
Also on Tuesday night, the council gave initial approval to a resolution that would establish a citywide paving assessment program, something that has been in formulation for months. Before the final vote, the public will have one last chance to weigh in on the resolution at 6 p.m. Aug. 24 at City Hall.