The Centralia City Council voted five to one on Tuesday night to move forward with a rezoning proposal allowing cannabis stores to open south of downtown.
Councilor Max Vogt was the sole vote against the measure while Councilor Elizabeth Cameron was absent.
The vote came two weeks after the proposal's first reading when the council voted six to one to move to the second reading. Since then, those opposed to the proposal have sought to convince the city council to reject the rezoning.
Stanley Shkuratoff, the owner of the property where Uncle Ando's Wurld of Weed, Centralia’s only cannabis store, said he believes the city council’s actions are unethical and represent a conflict of interest. He said he is meeting with lawyers to consider legal action against the city. Shkuratoff expressed a sense of betrayal by the city council, with whom he believed an understanding had been established.
“When we first started, (the property) was a mess. They said if you clean this place up then you can (construct a cannabis store),” Shkuratoff said.
Shkuratoff first started looking at his current property, located on Johnson Road, around 2016 or 2017. He said he’s spent $4 million developing the property, where dilapidated houses needed to be removed, ultimately opening the site in 2019. Shkuratoff believes the rezoning would be detrimental to his investment.
At the time, very few locations in Centralia were permitted to have marijuana businesses due to strict zoning.
“It would annihilate us,” Shkuratoff said of the proposal that passed Tuesday.
Shkuratoff said a representative from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board told him his property was the best location for a cannabis store. He also said Centralia School District Superintendent Lisa Grant was opposed to the rezoning, though Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston said on Tuesday night she had spoken with Grant and the district’s position was neutral on the proposal.
According to Shkuratoff, the applicant requesting the rezoning had originally spoken with him about leasing a site on his property for the proposed cannabis store, but wasn’t willing to pay rent at a level Shkuratoff found acceptable. He said the applicant had offered to pay $1,250 in rent. Shkuratoff was asking for at least $20,000 a month. In Shkuratoff’s view, $20,000 a month is a reasonable rent to charge leaseholders, citing his tenant, Uncle Ando's Wurld of Weed, which he claims makes as much as $80,000 a month in profits while paying the requested rent.
Despite the high rent, Shkuratoff said he’s “not even close” to breaking even on his investment. He said based on the loans he received to develop his property, it would take another 12 years to pay off his debt.
For Shkuratoff, the proposed zoning changes result from a city council composed of new members, who don’t have the same views as the councilors he worked with when he began developing his property.
“These other (new city council members) now they obviously don’t work for the people because they don’t work for the public. It’s all money and all business. We did an extremely beautiful job, and we want the city to do well,” Shkuratoff said. “I’m not just going to let this thing happen lying down.”
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, both those in favor and opposed to the rezoning voiced their views. Multiple members of the board of the Centralia Christian School, located near the proposed site of a new cannabis store, sent letters requesting the city not approve the plan. Mike Hoover, a lobbyist for Uncle Ando’s Wurld of Weed, had signed up to address the council, but after the letters from Centralia Christian School board members were read to the council, he chose not to speak.
After the public had finished providing comment to the council, Smith Johnston opened council discussion, stating she would be voting in favor of the proposal. The mayor said she had looked at data showing youth use of cannabis had been in decline as part of her reasoning.
Smith Johnston also said she wanted the council to examine possible policy changes to ensure Uncle Ando’s Wurld of Weed can stay in business. Following Smith Johnston’s statement, no other council members spoke.