Eagle River couple has high hopes for Anchorage pot business

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 13:53
  • Image courtesy Municipality of Anchorage Planning Department A map showing marijuana business permits throughout the Municipality of Anchorage as of April 17, 2017. There are no pending or issued permits in Chugiak-Eagle River.

While marijuana businesses continue to crop up across the Anchorage Bowl, they’re nowhere to be found in Chugiak-Eagle River.

Instead, locals involved in the blossoming industry are setting their sights elsewhere.

“The zoning is the biggest issue,” said Eagle River resident Katherine Ferguson, who’s in the process of building several marijuana businesses with her husband, Adam Ferguson, and their business partner, Orlo Smith.

Earlier this month, the trio received the state’s approval to open The Green Room AK, a retail marijuana business across the street from the Anchorage Museum. They’re some of the first Chugiak-Eagle River entrepreneurs to dive into the new industry, and they plan on stocking their store with product grown at their own cultivation facility, keeping prices low enough to compete with the black market.

Finding the right location was one of their biggest challenges, Katherine Ferguson said.

“We thought about actually having retail in Anchorage and a retail out there in Eagle River, but the problem is you have to find a landlord that’s not going to skyrocket the rent,” Ferguson said. “As soon as you say ‘marijuana,’ they want your money.”

Throughout most of the Municipality of Anchorage, code requires a 500-foot buffer between potential marijuana businesses and protected-use areas – schools, churches, daycares, parks and similar properties. In Chugiak-Eagle River, the distance is 1,000 feet.

Throughout the rest of the municipality, the distance is measured from the front entrance of the proposed marijuana business to the nearest protected lot line, playground edge or main public entrance, using the “shortest practicable pedestrian route.” In Chugiak-Eagle River, the distance is measured from lot line to lot line as the crow flies, according to the Anchorage Planning Department.

“That pretty much cuts half of Eagle River out,” Ferguson said. “There’s no property out there.”

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski, who represents Chugiak-Eagle River on the Anchorage Assembly, said the zoning regulations reflect the desires of the Chugiak-Eagle River Advisory Board. Comprised of representatives from the six local community councils, the board sought to maintain “spheres of influence,” Demboski said. So far, she believes municipal code has done just that.

“I think especially in Chugiak-Eagle River, it’s absolutely been effective in protecting the community,” she said.

The Fergusons just want to open up shop — wherever that might be. Both husband and wife are experienced in the world of business, and Katherine Ferguson said several members of her extended family have used medical marijuana to treat serious health conditions.

“That’s a big part of why I’m getting into it,” she said. “It’s a huge personal connection for me.”

After gaining state approval, The Green Room AK is currently moving through the municipal zoning process, Ferguson said. It’s been more than a year since she and her husband began working to open their shop. If all goes well, she said, they’ll be up and running by the end of the summer.

“We’re just trying to do the same thing as any other business does,” she said.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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