Members of the Hamilton City Council met as a Committee of the Whole in July to consider the city’s ordinance concerning off-street parking space requirements; review the Aggressive Dog Ordinance; and discuss the status of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.
The discussion about off-street parking requirements was primarily focused on churches and included a proposal to change the parking requirements for churches from requiring one parking space for every four to two parking spaces for every four seats.
The idea met resistance from the city staff. Public Works Director Donny Ramer said that in reviewing the requirements it appeared that they were “lifted” from some other place where they may have applied, but that they don’t fit Hamilton. He advocated looking at the whole parking situation in the city and revising or updating the requirements instead of doing some spot changes that in his mind are also questionable. He said the capacity of the current Catholic Church would require 167 spaces and said it wasn’t realistic. He noted that the church met only one day out of the week so most of those parking spaces would be empty most of the time.
“Do you want Hamilton to become a sea of parking lots to meet this worst-case scenario?”
“Some research needs to be done,” he said. “The new football stadium has 1300 seats.”
The new City Planner Mathew Rohrbach talked about how parking was a major factor in a city’s development and advocated for a longer, more comprehensive look at the issue.
The issue was left in committee.
Council member Kristi Bielski was pushing the committee to make some changes in what she sees is a vague and thus hard to enforce Vicious Dog Ordinance. She was also critical of the fact that it only addresses a dog biting a human and not when a dog bites another dog. She said that she had a dog attacked and bitten. She said the offending dog jumped a fence and attacked. She didn’t realize until the next day that her dog had been bitten.
She complained that the ordinance states that a dog “may” be quarantined if it bites someone when it should say “shall.” In fact, she said that there was nothing in the ordinance to insure that anything was done and that’s why officers respond to the same dog over and over again.
“We are promoting a walkable, safe community. Dogs are a big part of the picture,” she said.
Council President Travis Martinez said there were reasons for allowing the law enforcement officer on the scene to make the decision. There are many factors involved. He said barking dogs is another issue that may need to be addressed. He suggested that they look at ordinances from other cities and towns and see what they are doing.
The issue was left in committee.
The City of Hamilton currently has a temporary ordinance prohibiting the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary within the city limits. Councilor Jenny West believes that the time has come to remove that prohibition. She said state law allows the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries and that it is a public health issue. She said there were people in town who need the medication but now face the hardship of having to go out of town to get it.
One advocate for dropping the prohibition said he worked in the business in Missoula and would like to open a dispensary in Hamilton. He said his business is a legitimate business that meets state requirements and that he performs an essential function for many patients.
Right now state law has certain distances away from places such as churches and schools, but the city could place greater distance limits if it wanted.
City Planner Mathew Rohrbach said that the city of Helena allowed medical marijuana dispensaries into town through a zoning process. First, do you want to allow it? If so, where and how is it going to be displayed?
Martinez had a lot of questions about how the business would operate if it is federally illegal. If it is a cash only business, how does it pay employees?
At least one staff member and one council member stated that it was not really a priority issue.
Somebody said that there was a medical marijuana business located at the end of Marcus Street just outside the city limits and that the one in Victor delivers.
“I don’t think we need to look at providing these things as a problem,” he said.
Councilor Jenny West said, “But you don’t have to be scared of it either. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Ramer said that the question should be what’s the benefit to the City. He called it a “legally marginal” business and would require a lot of work to create the zoning, do inspections, and affect law enforcement. He said the current business license was $50 and it just won’t cover all these costs.
After a motion to wait until the November elections to see if a ballot issue to legalize recreational marijuana in the state passes or not was discussed and withdrawn, it was decided to leave the issue in committee.