(Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Wheat Ridge faces $700K lawsuit after pot store plan nixed

Fitzgerald said the planning department was simply letting Behzadzadeh know what his options were with the property ahead of filing a formal application with the city, which he hadn’t yet done.

“It’s not a broken promise — he wasn’t promised anything,” said Fitzgerald, noting that political realities can interfere with a developer’s plans before they are finalized. “Maybe he thought that visiting with someone in the planning office was more than what it was.”

Councilman George Pond said he and his colleagues on council had to respond to residents’ concerns once they found out about them.

Despite holding more than a dozen public meetings on marijuana regulations over the past few years, Pond said attendance was sparse.

But when the project at 38th Avenue and Miller Street — which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, including a gated community — came into view, “everyone became activated about this issue,” Pond said.

“We felt we had done the work on how the marijuana business could fit into our community, and what turned out is we hadn’t received all the input we needed,” he said. “It was pretty loud and clear that the number of pot shops we had was enough.”

Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries

Most neighbor complaints revolved around familiar themes: a pot operation at that intersection would give off an odor, threaten property values and potentially expose children to the drug on their way to and from school.

Lee Reichardt, who lives on Miller Street just south of the proposed site, said a pot shop was a bad fit for the neighborhood. He said Behzadzadeh should have done more homework or gotten something in writing before buying the parcel for a marijuana business.

“I didn’t care if he paid $1 million for the property, I didn’t want to see another dope store in town,” Reichardt said. “It would cut into the price of our house.”

Behzadzadeh’s lawyer, Jeff Gard, showed The Denver Post a series of e-mails between his client and city staff in which city employees made it clear the parcel was properly zoned for a marijuana business. There were also detailed discussions about setbacks and architectural issues at the site.

The business side of recreational marijuana: Get an inside look at one of Colorado’s biggest pot retailers, Medicine Man — the ambitions of the family behind it and the evolution of their business amid changing state regulations

Rules change midway

Gard said the nature of the discussions amounted to a promise from Wheat Ridge to his client that the project complied with city rules and was good to go.

The Wheat Ridge city manager’s office declined to comment on the dispute because of the threat of litigation.

“We followed their direction every step of the way and got blindsided by this change of heart and change of law,” Gard said.

He said more than two years after Coloradans chose to legalize pot in the state, municipalities continue to wrestle with an industry that was stigmatized for decades. Even in communities like Wheat Ridge that allow the retail sale of pot, acceptance of the drug is far from universal.

“Cities can still be intimidated around the culture of fear surrounding marijuana,” Gard said. “Would they be doing this with a Noodles & Co. or a Chipotle?”

John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@denverpost.com or twitter.com/abuvthefold

This story was first published on DenverPost.com