- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Denver officials on Thursday sided with neighbors who opposed a marijuana grow operation in a part of town they say has too many pot businesses.

The decision by the excise and licenses department followed a City Council move earlier this year to cap the number of stores and grow operations amid concerns that some neighborhoods, particularly those that are poor and largely minority, feel overwhelmed by the marijuana industry.

Brian Ruden said he would appeal the refusal of his application to renew the license for his grow operation in what was once a residential apartment above his marijuana store in a neighborhood known as Elyria.

Ruden owns several Starbuds marijuana shops in the Denver area and Pueblo. He said he differed with the city’s reading of the zoning law as well as the argument that his grow operation hurt the neighborhood - a mix of residential and industrial buildings.

The decision “is a precedent and the industry is looking at this carefully,” Ruden added, saying marijuana entrepreneurs might have to take a closer look at how to reach out to neighbors.

“We can co-exist peacefully,” he said. “We can be a part of the neighborhood’s growth.”

The renewal refusal was the first to emerge from a process in which a public hearing was requested to consider a grow license in an area zoned for mixed industrial and residential uses. Elyria resident Allison Anderson testified against Ruden’s renewal application at a public hearing in April. Thursday, she said she was pleased with the decision.

“People who live in a neighborhood have a right to define it and to chart its course,” she said, adding she is not against the marijuana industry but wants room for other businesses.

Anderson, who owns a farmer’s market near Elyria, and other neighbors argued during the hearing that the number of marijuana businesses in Elyria would make it difficult to realize a plan to improve the area. That plan recently emerged from lengthy consultations with residents and city officials.

In a statement Thursday, Stacie Loucks, executive director of the excise and licenses department, noted neighbors’ opposition and said the officer who presided over the April hearing had properly found that Ruden’s “facility has negatively affected nearby properties and the neighborhood in general.”

The first recreational shops opened in Colorado 2014, and more than 400 were in business by early 2016.

The Associated Press, using records compiled by the state, mapped locations of recreational marijuana shops across Colorado. AP found that neighborhoods with the stores have a higher rate of unemployment, higher percentage of minority residents and a higher percentage of people living in poverty compared to census tracts with no recreational shops.

Several such census tracts make up Elyria and neighboring Globeville and Swansea, often thought of as one part of Denver. The areas huddle under a stretch of elevated interstate and are home to a score of retail marijuana shops as well as medical outlets and grow operations.

Census data show Globeville, Elyiria and Swansea to be predominantly Hispanic and plagued by unemployment and poverty.

Plans to renovate the crumbling stretch of interstate have sparked fears of disruptions and dirt during construction. A proposal to develop a complex of rodeo arenas and show grounds in Globeville has heightened concern about gentrification, even as marijuana businesses are already being blamed for rising rents.

Starbuds’ Ruden said it can be difficult for a pot entrepreneur to find a willing landlord as well as secure a place to do business that meets rules that keep marijuana away from schools and other sensitive sites and is in the right zone.

Historic zoning patterns often mean cheaper housing is close to commercial and industrial areas.

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Associated Press reporter Angeliki Kastanis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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