For the third time in an 11 day period passionate people filled the council chambers at village hall Monday night and argued about whether a medical marijuana dispensary should be allowed at either of two locations in Forest Park.
When the nearly three hour meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting ended, the ZBA had recommended granting a conditional use permit for one location and deadlocked on another location. The applicants for a third permit, at 7709 Roosevelt Road, the former Deal$ site, withdrew their request for a permit before the meeting started.
The ZBA voted 3 to 1 with Robert Teets abstaining to recommend that the village council grant a conditional use permit to Green MC Meds, a company founded by former Oak Park and River Forest High School basketball star Evan Hilton to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the former Washington Mutual bank branch at 7501 Roosevelt Road. ZBA member Richard Scafidi cast the only vote against granting the conditional use permit.
The ZBA deadlocked 2-2 with Teets abstaining on a motion to also recommend that the village council grant a conditional use permit to John and Linda Cibula who wish to buy Kevil’s bar and restaurant and open a medical marijuana dispensary at 7228 Circle Ave. ZBA chairman Austin Zimmer and member Jeff Chen were not at the meeting.
The village council will take up the issue at either its Sept. 22 meeting or its Oct. 14 meeting, probably the Oct. 14 meeting village attorney Nick Peppers said.
Even if the village council grants the conditional use permits that does not mean that a medical marijuana dispensary, let alone two, will open in Forest Park. The new state law allowing for the medical use of marijuana allows only one medical marijuana dispensary to be opened to serve Proviso, Leyden and Norwood Townships. The state will make the final determination of which applicant in the three townships will be allowed to open.
However that didn’t make the public comment any less passionate.
Both the Cibulas and Hilton talked of personal experience with loved ones sparking their interest in the medical uses of marijuana.
Linda Cibula said that her brother suffers from Parkinson’s disease and his symptoms have been eased by the use of marijuana. Hilton’s mother Cheri Hilton, who was a beloved first grade teacher at Mann School in Oak Park, died last year after a long battle with brain cancer.
“This is not about money with us,” said Dunnigan Hilton, Evan’s father and the husband of Cheri Hilton. “We want to help medical science and technology improve what they’re doing.”
But Dr. Glenn Siegel, a townhome owner who lives near the proposed Circle Avenue site said that dispensaries will simply dispense drugs not conduct research.
Siegel and other opponents of the proposed dispensaries said that they were concerned about the locations of the proposed dispensaries not against the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Opponents noted that the people who wished to open the dispensaries do not live in Forest Park. They worried about traffic, crime, and congestion.
“If you put a dispensary in I’m going to move to Oak Park,” said Julie Robichaud, who like many of the opponents of the Kevil’s location lives in the Forest Glen Townhome development. Robichaud said that criminals, who would have easy access to the Circle Avenue site because of its proximity to the Harlem/Lake Green Line el station, would target patients coming out of the dispensary with their bags of marijuana.
Others said that the presence of a medical marijuana dispensary would drive down the value of their property.
“My neighbors are concerned about this facility,” said Karen McClard, another townhome resident. “Within 1,000 feet there is a lot of property value and a lot of voters.”
Matt Hickey has lived in his home in the 1100 block of Beloit for 38 years and he is concerned about the impact of a dispensary half a block from his house.
“As of right now we don’t have any panhandlers or any derelicts at Roosevelt and Harlem and I don’t know if that will be the case if we get this medical marijuana thing because there’s always a case where somebody doesn’t need all their medicine and they sell it or give it away; their caretakers will rip them off on it and it’ll cause just general disruption in the neighborhood,” Hickey said.
But Dunnigan Hilton said that those concerns are misplaced.
“It’s not about the criminals; it’s about the patients,” Hilton said. “There’s no criminals who are going to be walking through that door; its sick people who are going to be walking through those doors. Sick people don’t commit crimes; they don’t have the energy to do it.”
Linda Cibula said that she never thought the process would be so difficult and the passions so great.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Cibula said. “I never thought it would be like this.”
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Linda Cibula’s name.