Forest Parkers made their voices heard – pro and con – about proposed sites for medical cannabis dispensaries at the Sept. 8 village council meeting. About 18 people addressed the council during public comments; Mayor Anthony Calderone quipped it was the largest number in his experience on the council.
“We understand this is a touchy subject,” Calderone said. “I simply call it the state putting handcuffs on us: No local unit of government can completely prohibit [marijuana dispensaries],” Calderone said. Other than blocking dispensaries from being within 1,000 feet of schools and daycare centers, the state prohibits the dispensaries in residential neighborhoods, Calderone said. “But we are allowed to create reasonable zoning restrictions.”
The next step will be a Sept. 15 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, where potentially three individual pot dispensary companies will be considered for specific sites.
Many of the commenters Monday were repeats from the Sept. 4 ZBA meeting where the board voted four-to-one to restrict conditional permits for medical cannabis dispensaries to B-2 commercial neighborhood and I-1 and I-2 Industrial zones.
Glenn Siegel, a townhome owner near a proposed site on Circle Avenue near Harlem, asked the council to vote to “unbundle” the zones and vote separately on B-2, and the two industrial zoning parcels. He said eliminating B-1 and the downtown business district was “inconsistent and discriminatory” against residents who lived in the B-2 district.
At the Sept. 4 meeting, ZBA member Jeff Chen made a motion to amend the ordinance to unbundle the three zones, but no one would second the motion and it died.
The B-2 district near the Kevil’s Restaurant site at 7228 Circle Ave. generated the most comments. The neighborhood is zoned more commercial because of its proximity to Harlem Avenue and the Green Line. Two proposed sites on Roosevelt Road would also fall in the B-2 category.
Like a tennis match, arguments for and against were lobbed across the village council chambers.
Those in favor of dispensaries made emotional arguments favoring the medical benefits and compassionate use of the new marijuana meds. Those against worried about crime and property values.
“If we do not get a dispensary, the real victims are the people in Illinois who suffer from 37 debilitating diseases,” said Rose Crowe.
Karen McClard, of the Forest Glen Townhomes testified at the ZBA hearing about her concerns for being able to walk safely near her home with a cash-only business close by. To the village council she argued that too many children lived in the neighborhood.
“I don’t think the intent of the state was to put medical marijuana dispensaries where children are playing,” she said. Medical professional Julie Robichaud also argued that the area had too many children.
Oak Parker Kevin Calkins supported the site because his two teenagers with epilepsy would be able to walk to Forest Park to pick up their medical marijuana because they couldn’t drive. Actually, state law prohibits anyone under age 21 from obtaining the drugs.
Brian O’Hara, who described himself as an “investor in Forest Park” said he hoped the village would continue to be “progressive, forward moving and forward-thinking.”
Husband and wife Ron and Shirley Suber, townhome dwellers, testified that a dispensary would interfere with their being able to enjoy their property. Ron Suber encouraged council members to visit the neighborhood themselves before making a decision. This sentiment was echoed by Ron Hasse.
John Cibula, son and business partner with his mother Linda, cited Colorado studies showing crime decreased around dispensaries because of added security. He argued the pot dispensary would bring more visitors to a moribund business district.
Patricia Burke worried about attracting a bad element, saying she thought there was enough loitering already at the CVS and Green Line station. “I think it causes a perception that it’s not a valuable place to put money down for a home,” she said.
Coleen Dennigan of River Forest said she was a principal on medical leave and a cancer patient herself. She urged the council to risk making some citizens angry to do the right thing.
“I know pain,” she said. “And I also know as an administrator you can’t please everyone.”
Some speakers also praised Kevil’s Restaurant. Dick Biggins of Oak Park and Michael Sullivan, owner of Goldy Burgers, urged the village to support a business that would buy the Kevil’s property and bring economic development to the area.
District 91 School Board member Sean Blaylock said the B-2 classification was imprecise and was referred to as ‘located on busier roads.’ “That doesn’t accurately characterize the B-2 that I live in,” Blaylock said. “You can look at a map that says ‘non-residential parcel,’ but many of us who live on Marengo and Elgin do not live in a non-residential parcel.”
Is there a stigma?
When the council finally began to discuss the vote, Commissioner Chris Harris called reasoning for choosing B-2 and the industrial zones “vague.”
“Why are some parts of town being excluded? Are we saying there’s a stigma attached to this?” Harris asked. “I just don’t see why we’re picking and choosing.”
The mayor and Village Administrator Tim Gillian said the council had indicated it did not want to include the downtown business district in the zoning plan for dispensaries.
Harris said in other states such as Colorado, medical pot pilot programs had led to full-scale legalization. “That’s where people have the trepidation,” Harris said. “They’re worried this could become a recreational facility.”
Commissioner Mark Hosty urged the village to make a compassionate choice and not stigmatize the business by limiting it to industrial areas.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins acknowledged he was not “100 percent comfortable” when he first heard about a potential dispensary – at the May All-School Picnic. Hoskins acknowledged there was a stigma but for medical purposes pot served a significant need.
“It’s part of the new world,” Hoskins said.