Anchorage Assembly allows weed shop to open next to homeless shelter church

    The Anchorage Assembly held a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10, where it approved a business license for  a new marijuana shop to open just 55 feet from a faith-based outreach that operates as a church and homeless shelter.

    Hope Center serves some of the most vulnerable citizens in Anchorage, offering shelter, food, education and spiritual guidance to hundreds of people living on the streets. The group also houses a church in its building located on the corner of Cordova and 3rd Ave.

    In order for the marijuana shop to open, the assembly had to redefine Hope Center from a shelter to an emergency temporary shelter, which they did earlier this year. According to city code a marijuana shop cannot open within 500 feet of a shelter. By reclassifying Hope Center as an “emergency temporary shelter” the prohibition against the weed shop no longer applied.

    Hope Center wasn’t done fighting.

    All these different churches are not really in buildings that were designed to be a church, because nobody can really afford to build a church building anymore.”

    In June they applied and were approved by the city’s planning and zoning commission to be designated as a church. With the new designation, AlaskaSense could not open within 200 feet of Hope Center.

    Hope Center has held church services in its building since 2016.

    AlaskaSense then argued against Hope Center’s designation as a church by pointing to city code that define a church as a building that is specifically built and designed for religious services.

    “Well most of the new churches in Anchorage are all built in strip malls,” said Sherrie Laurie, executive director of Hope Center. “ChangePoint Church is at a fish plant. All these different churches are not really in buildings that were designed to be a church, because nobody can really afford to build a church building anymore.”

    Despite AlaskaSense’s opposition, the planning and zoning commission stood by its decision to classify Hope Center as a church and therefore said the weed shop could not, according to city code, open within 200 feet of the center.

    The battle didn’t end there, however. Last Friday, the assembly held a meeting which Laurie attended. The day before the meeting she received notice from planning and zoning that Hope Center would, in fact, no longer be considered a church but rather a building that holds religious services due to the fact that it’s facility was not designed to be a church building.

    Hope Center was given 30 days to appeal the new designation, but Laurie said they have decided not to challenge the new classification and have ended their opposition to AlaskaSense’s plans to open the weed shop. That decision came after signing a memorandum of understanding with AlaskaSense and Downtown Community Council, wherein the parties drew up an agreement which was submitted to the city on Dec. 9.

    “This got too big for us to fight,” Laurie said. “There is only so much a little soup kitchen can fight.

    “Basically, they agreed not to do on-site consumption at the facility,” Laurie said. “Secondly, they can’t be open during our services on Sunday, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

    On Tuesday the assembly voted to approve AlaskaSense for a retail business license.

    “This got too big for us to fight,” Laurie said. “There is only so much a little soup kitchen can fight. We have no grounds to oppose it anymore. The assembly took those ground away. We still don’t want it there, but really have no choice. They have just redefined everything at the assembly.”

    This is not the first time the city has locked horns with Hope Center. Earlier this year the city had to settle out of court with Hope Center after trying to force the faith-based shelter to admit biological males into its female-only shelter. The city eventually backed down and paid Hope Center $100,000 to settle the case.

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