ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Anchorage Assembly is expected to decide whether a retail marijuana store can open despite its location next to a shelter that also serves as a church, officials said.

AlaskaSense LLC plans to open a marijuana store in Anchorage beside the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

The soup kitchen and women’s shelter leases space to a Texas ministry called Hope Church. The city’s planning department classified the entire operation as a religious assembly with special protections.

The center’s board recently sent a letter to AlaskaSense explaining it voted to drop the opposition to the business, but the decision remains with the city.

AlaskaSense owner Smadi Warden spent $400,000 in rent and renovations based on previous assurances from the city that it met zoning regulations, she said.

Warden has requested a variance from the ordinance protecting churches from marijuana retailers, something the assembly has never granted.


“The original approval, it just went smooth, and there has never been a question about if the Hope Center was a church. For three years I’ve been paying the rent, trying to get this thing moving,” Warden said.

The soup kitchen originally did not qualify as a protected area preventing a marijuana business from operating within 200 feet (61 meters). City measurements put AlaskaSense 55 feet (17 meters) from the Hope Center property line.

“They fought as a soup kitchen, then they lost the fight,” Warden said. “Now they are coming back in a different way and they call it a church.”

The operation is clearly a religious one and the city is following protocol, said Hope Center Executive Director Sherrie Laurie, who would not comment on why the center sent a letter saying it had dropped its opposition.


Information from: Anchorage Daily News,