An ordinance that would limit the number of retail marijuana stores in city limits to one was approved in first reading Thursday by the Ketchikan City Council.

The original measure called for a limit of two stores, but Council Member Julie Isom proposed an amendment reducing that to one. She says more retail stores can open outside of city limits, if the Ketchikan Gateway Borough chooses to let that happen.

“If the borough can come up and say we want one or two or three or however many we want, it’s not in our control. But in city limits? The boundaries aren’t very far in city limits,” she said. “I’d like to see just one.”

There was some question about whether the ordinance – which needs to come back for a News Tilesecond reading — would be officially approved before retail marijuana applications are received by the state Marijuana Control Board, and whether that matters.

City Attorney Mitch Seaver told the Council that the state hasn’t been clear on that topic.

“It may or may not be a race to the marijuana board within the time that it takes the ordinance here to become effective,” he said.

Two potential marijuana retail businesses – one on Stedman Street and one on Water Street – have started the permitting process at the borough level, but City Clerk Katy Suiter told the Council that she hasn’t yet received notice that either has turned in a state permit application.

Isom’s amendment reducing the number of pot shops allowed within the city to one passed 5-1, with Judy Zenge voting no. The main motion then passed unanimously. The measure will return for a second vote during the Council’s Sept. 15th meeting.

Also Thursday, the Council unanimously approved a motion to move forward with implementing a task force to look into ways to improve the lives of the city’s homeless population and those with alcohol problems.

There was some discussion before the vote with representatives of local nonprofit agencies that provide some services that the task force would address.

Renee Schofield of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition says the community has many resources to help homeless people and those with substance abuse problems. Those services just need better coordination.

“So, what’s critical here is that we become Lego blocks. And we figure out how to put the people together – the right people in the right places – not reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I personally don’t want to spend a ton of money doing more research. I don’t need more lip service and neither does the community. We need to find who is doing what, get everybody to the table and find out how to dovetail what we’re doing.”

Schofield and other nonprofit representatives stressed the need to talk directly to the people they’re trying to help, to hear from them what they need.

City Manager Karl Amylon agreed, and said he would work with the service providers to come up with a plan.

The City Council also voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a resolution urging Alaska’s congressional delegation to work toward passing a U.S. Senate bill that would provide federal timberland in exchange for Deer Mountain, which is owned by Alaska Mental Health Trust.

The trust recently announced it was moving forward with a plan to log the face of Deer Mountain, and many local residents strongly oppose that idea.