ORANGE PARK, Fla. -- Effective immediately medical marijuana dispensaries can set up shop within the town limits provided they comply with restrictions imposed by Town Council, which in a split vote approved an ordinance allowing the establishments.
The council voting 3-2 Oct. 3 enacted an ordinance allowing the dispensaries in commercial general, commercial intensive and planned unit development zoning districts within the town limits. The ordinance bans those businesses from locating within 500 feet of a school or another pharmacy/medical marijuana dispensary.
Orange Park became the first, and potentially only, Clay County community to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment centers,
Voting to allow the dispensaries under restrictions specified in the ordinance were Mayor Scott Land and council members Connie Thomas and Alan Watt.
“This is the right thing to do. It’s what the people voted for in this county and in this town. And it puts us in control of it,” Watt said.
Watt noted voters in Clay County as well as statewide overwhelming approved legalization of medical marijuana in the Nov. 8, 2016 general election. Watt said he was comfortable with the safeguards built into the ordinance. He emphasized the council — via the restrictions contained in the measure — will control the operation of the dispensaries.
Dissenting were Vice Mayor Gary Meeks and Councilman Ron Raymond, who repeated previous arguments that the issue is a Pandora’s box.
“I have no moral issue with the marijuana as a medical treatment. But I believe our town is too small. … I’m saying we’ve got way more questions about this than I’m comfortable with because we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Raymond said.
Under Florida law, medical marijuana dispensaries must be treated as regular pharmacies for zoning purposes. That means wherever a regular pharmacy is allowed, so, too, is a medical marijuana dispensary.
The Orange Park ordinance bans pharmacies including medical marijuana dispensaries from commercial neighborhood zoning districts, which typically include convenience stores and office space.
Two residents spoke about the measure during a public hearing right before the council vote. Barbara Davidson, respected as a community advocate and government watchdog, urged the council to keep the dispensaries out of planned unit development (PUD) zoning districts.
“This ordinance, in my opinion, is lacking in transparency in that we have in the [town] code a total of 12 zoning districts. Five of those are residential. That leaves seven. One of those is government and that leaves six. This ordinance addresses five,” said Davidson, noting the planned unit development zoning district isn’t specifically mentioned in the ordinance.
Davidson continued, pointing out that a planned unit development “can have anything that is permitted anywhere.”
She said the definition of a PUD, she said, shall mean the development of land under unified control, which is planned and developed as a whole in a single or programmed series of operations with uses and structures substantially related to the character of the PUD. It must also include a program for the provision, maintenance and operations of all areas, improvements, facilities and necessary services for the common use of all occupants there, Davidson said.
“Respectfully, I do not see how the pharmacy for medical marijuana would be appropriate for PUD. And the way this ordinance is written, they would be entitled to go into a PUD,” said Davidson, asking council to modify the ordinance to ban dispensaries from planned unit developments.
Frank Ricketts asked for clarification about whether the dispensaries would be banned from locating within 500 feet of churches.
Town Attorney Sam Garrison explained under state law, churches are not included in that 500 foot buffer zone. But if the church includes a school – as defined by Florida law – the dispensary wouldn’t be allowed within 500 feet of that school, Garrison said.
In other business:
The council honored Orange Park police Cpl. Garry Briggs and Officer Scott Chalker – presenting them each with a Life Saving Award from the American Police Hall of Fame. The officers saved the life of a distraught, suicidal man who used a knife to cut his own throat after locking himself inside the bathroom of a Plainfield Avenue home on July 13.
Police Chief Gary Goble told the council that Briggs kept talking to the man in order to calm him down and persuaded him to surrender peacefully. The man was bleeding heavily from a four-inch self-inflicted cut to the right side of his neck when he came out of the bathroom. Chalker used paper towels to staunch the bleeding and keep pressure on the wound until emergency medical personnel arrived.
“Because of the actions of the officers on a man who clearly wanted to die, he lived. They were able to basically save his life,” Goble said.
Land praised the officers, saying “the Orange Park Police Department is one of the things that makes this town so great. We really appreciate all the service and everything you all do for us.”
Voting unanimously, the council ratified the appointment of Courtney Russo as town clerk at an annual salary of $53,233. Town Manager Sarah Campbell recommended Russo for the position. A town employee since November 2015, Russo succeeds Campbell as town clerk. Russo previously served as administrative assistant to the clerk and town manager.
The council, also voting unanimously, ratified Goble’s appointment as Acting Town Manager, should Campbell be temporarily absent or disabled. If Goble is unable to serve, then Chuck Pavlos, town public works director, or Fire Chief Alvin Barker, will be Acting Town Manager depending on the circumstances, Campbell said in a memo to the council recommending the action.