Dan Volpe, owner of Serene Wellness dispensary, plans to open a retail pot shop in downtown Winter Park at a hotel that has avoided annexation into the town for almost 40 years despite its location in the center of town. Volpe plans to renovate the two hotel rooms and make them into a dispensary. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Pot shop finds a way around a Colo. ski town’s weed sales ban

Dan Volpe fought for nearly a year to win final approval to open a pot shop in the bud-bereft town of Winter Park. Now he’s ready to open in the Valley Hi Motel in time for the free Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert on Thursday.

“This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” said Volpe, who owns Serene Wellness dispensaries in Empire and Fraser. “I never thought it would take so long. If this was in another setting, I would have been open a year ago.”

Around this time last year, Volpe was hunting for a new shop location in the Fraser Valley when he discovered the Valley Hi,¬†at the entrance to Winter Park, had been left out of a 1978 town survey. This meant the motel was a county island and exempt from Winter Park’s 2010 ban on medical marijuana and 2013 ban on recreational sales.

Grand County’s three-member board of commissioners approved Volpe’s plan for recreational marijuana sales at Valley Hi in August. Winter Park vowed a fight, even securing a restraining order preventing the commissioners from voting on the proposal. (That order was not delivered in time and the town ended up suing the commissioners to overturn the approval.)

Volpe, whose medical sales license for his Serene Wellness shop in Empire was among the first issued in Colorado in 2010, has been wading through a legal morass for many months. The Winter Park council’s complaint didn’t necessarily target Volpe. The town’s lawsuit argued the commissioners violated procedures by not allowing town officials to “meaningfully participate” in the licensing hearing or to cross-examine witnesses — including the Empire police chief and mayor — who supported the application.

Earlier this month, the town dropped its legal action. Winter Park town manager Drew Nelson said early signals from the court prodded the decision to end the fight.

“It seems like it was prudent for us to seek a mutually agreeable resolution,” Nelson said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation last week issued Volpe an access permit for his Valley Hi retail location off U.S. 40. The county issued a certificate of occupancy last week. Volte also signed a settlement agreement with the Town of Winter Park, promising to follow signage rules.

With 11 consecutive months of statewide pot revenue exceeding $100 million, many municipalities are reconsidering earlier prohibition laws. Palisade, Englewood and Federal Heights voters last November approved marijuana sales and taxes. Milliken officials are mulling a law to allow retail marijuana.

Still, a majority of Colorado’s municipalities retain bans on retail sales of marijuana. Including Winter Park.

And the town is not about to abandon its long-standing prohibition. (Town staff did draft a potential ballot question last summer that would have asked voters to review the marijuana ban, but the council did not forward the measure to the ballot.)

“The council’s position has not changed,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the town’s leaders are moving on after losing the fight to block the motel pot shop. Public-private partnerships soon will open a new grocery store, a new stage at downtown’s Hideaway Park and a new community center. The town’s sales tax revenues are reaching record levels as growing numbers of visitors, locals and second homeowners spend more time and money in the town.

“Our business community has done really well and that’s been done without marijuana being located in downtown,” Nelson said.

Volpe expects Winter Park will see more traffic with his store. He’s hoping to get open in time for the Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert, which will christen the town’s new permanent stage at Hideaway Park.

“I’m hesitant to even breathe right now,” Volpe said, “but it seems like we are going to make this happen.”

This story was first published on DenverPost.com