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Update: Pot lottery winners say board reverses decision | Novel Tree allowed to open on 130th Avenue Northeast
A Bellevue entrepreneur says the Washington State Liquor Control Board has reversed an earlier decision denying him licensure to open a recreational marijuana shop on 130th Avenue Northeast, allowing him to move forward as one of four operators allowed in the city.
Chris McAboy and his girlfriend, Allie Charneski, were dropped from consideration last month after taking one of the four top spots for Bellevue in a WSLCB lottery when the board determined their store — The Novel Tree — violated state regulations by being within 1,000 feet of a recreation center. The couple argued the Girl Scouts of Western Washington's administrative office on the 13000 block of Northeast 20th Street was being incorrectly identified as such, and were preparing to file suit against the liquor control board to halt the licensing process pending their appeal for licensure.
"We ended up just getting a call on Thursday with the supervisor we've been in contact with and she notified us that after consulting with their attorney generals and higher ups that they were going to let us open up and we spoke with the investigator the next day," McAboy said. "… It's nice to see that they're able to go back without an appeals process and agree on that. It's pretty obvious what that building was and I'm glad they recognized it."
The Novel Tree is expected to open in two months, said McAboy, and replace the A Better Bath and Kitchen at 1817 130th Ave. N.E., which relocated to the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle and reopened as Abbrio. Property owner Dan Sherman said he knows recreational marijuana is a hot political discussion, but he supports the hard work being done by the young couple to open this business.
"We're doing what we can to support these folks because … they're working really hard to get this done," Sherman said.
When Chris McAboy learned he'd snagged a highly coveted ranking in a lottery held by the Washington State Liquor Control Board that would allow him to open a recreational pot store in Bellevue, his parents refinanced their home to help him accomplish his dream.
He and his girlfriend, Allie Charneski, had the added luck of a landlord willing to lease a storefront to them on 130th Avenue Northeast. And the city of Bellevue cleared the structure several times and were great to work with, said McAboy.
So it was surprising and disheartening when the couple found out they were being dropped from consideration for licensure by the liquor control board based on the proximity of the store to the Girl Scouts of Western Washington's administrative office. State regulations prohibit pot shops from opening within 1,000 feet of a recreation center.
Arguing the Girl Scouts of Western Washington's location on the 13000 block of Northeast 20th Street identifies itself as an administrative office and not a recreation center has proven useless in reversing the decision, McAboy said.
"We have had a chance to interview the regional coordinator at the Girl Scouts, and all the information she's given us leads to this not being a recreational center," McAboy said.
The liquor control board tells the Reporter it does not discuss matters surrounding pending licensure of private businesses.
McAboy said there have been several meetings with WSLCB officials in Olympia, but to no avail.
"Luckily, my partner's dad is a lawyer, and he's willing to go all in for us," McAboy said.
The couple, whose store would be called The Novel Tree and replace the shuttered A Better Bath and Kitchen at 1817 130th Ave. N.E., plan to file a lawsuit against WSLCB to stall the licensing process in Bellevue until an appeal is heard.
"They haven't even told us how long it would take to get into an appeal," said McAboy, adding without the lawsuit the four pot shops allowed in Bellevue could be filled before the appeal process.
The liquor control board anticipates recreational marijuana stores could begin operating by July 1. The Novel Tree took the second-place spot when the board released winners earlier this month. The Greensun Group, at 10600 Main St., Ste. 2, now moves up from fifth to fourth place based on the board's decision. Only four stores are allowed in Bellevue.
The city has been operating under emergency regulations for retail marijuana businesses since October, recently amending an ordinance to prevent pot shops from opening up within 1,000 feet of each other.
Emily Christensen for the city said that may have an impact on two lottery winners intending to open up shop less than 1,000 feet from each other on the 10600 block of Main Street. Those winners are Par 4 Investments and High Society. This could also prove difficult for the Greensun Group, which is also located on the 10600 block of Main Street.
As for the location for The Novel Tree, Christensen said city staff found the site neither conflicts with Bellevue's land use code nor its emergency ordinance.
"Our role is just to make sure that it is going to be allowed under our land use, and this particular location is," she said.
McAboy and Charneski are hopeful their lawsuit will allow them to realize their dream, as they have sunk a lot of capital into their business, so far, not including the lease they're waiting to sign.
"That was probably the most difficult part is finding someone even willing to discuss with us a lease," McAboy said. "We don't have a lot of money to throw out."