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The proposed Bloc cannabis dispensary at the former Forest Park CVS location, 25 N. Harlem Ave., cleared its first legal hurdle on Feb. 21 as the village’s Planning & Zoning Committee voted 4-1 to recommend approval. Commission member Paul Price cast the no vote.

Cannabis dispensaries are allowed by right on the Madison Street corridor and in the industrial district, and as a conditional use in commercial districts. This means that the village council must approve each conditional use on a case-by-cases basis. Now that the application cleared the zoning commission, the village council can give its expected final approval as soon as Feb. 27.

During the Feb. 21 meeting, Justice Cannabis, which will be operating the dispensary on the behalf of owner Emerald Coast LLC, emphasized the security measures it’s putting in place and the fact that it intends to hire local. But several Forest Parkers, most of whom live in the Forest Oaks senior apartments directly west of the building, at 25 N. Elgin Ave.,  raised concerns. As did operators of  Let’s Play Work, the indoor playground located in the Forest Oaks’ first-floor commercial area. They argued the proximity to the dispensary would scare off parents, hurting their business.

The dispensary will be owned by Emerald Coast. That firm is co-owned by Justin Frankel of Katohan, N.Y., Alan Dordek of Wilmette, Tyrone Harris of Bellwood, and Mathew Joseph Hagglund of Normal. They hired Justice Cannabis which has a cannabis cultivation facility in Edgewood, IL, and operates multiple dispensaries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Missouri, Utah and Michigan. Mitch Zaveduk, Justice Cannabis’ vice president of real estate, said they plan to eventually operate 10 branches in Illinois overall.

The Bloc would be moving into the southern third of the vacant CVS building. Drew Krisco, owner of Bern Realty, which owns the building, told the commission that they plan to split the remaining space into two, and they are currently in discussion with potential retail tenants.

“There’s a lot of interest,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t disclose what it is at the moment, but it will be something that adds value.”

Price asked whether if the property owners would consider building a mixed-use development similar to the Eleven33 Apartments across the street. Developer Tim Hague, also with Bern Realty, responded that, as someone who was involved in that building’s development, he didn’t believe Bern had the capacity for something like it, and the density might be “excessive” for that particular parcel.

“We’re familiar with the product, and we looked at it, the nature of family ownerships in this doesn’t allow us to do that large-scale mixed use development,” he said.

Zaveduk said they liked the location because it is near public transit and has ample parking. Based on Justice Cannabis’ past experience, they believed that the traffic impact would be less than an average drive-through, saying that they expect 85% of the customers to simply stop by to pick up their orders and leave.

“The average time that our customers spend in our store is 4.5 minutes. And that’s really a little skewed [by customers who browse],” Zaveduk said.

In a Feb. 2 letter to the zoning commission, Forest Park Police Chief Ken Gross said he consulted with his counterparts in Elmwood Park, Melrose Park and Westchester, which each have one dispensary, and Rosemont, which has two. The feedback Gross got was that, aside from an issue with a terminated employee at a Westchester dispensary, they have had no police calls. He also reviewed Oak Park Police Department call records for the MedMen medical cannabis dispensary. 1142 Lake St.

“There were five calls [between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 2, 2023], with two being parking complaints, two being customer disputes, and one being a motor vehicle theft,” he wrote. “I cannot with authority advise if the parking complaints or motor vehicle theft were directly related to MedMen.”

Gross concluded that “cannabis dispensaries do not appear to cause a strain on police resources.”

Zaveduk boasted that the store would have interior security cameras an average of every 600 feet, as well as exterior cameras covering every corner. He said there will be one security guard looking at the camera feeds and a security guard out front at any given time. As per state law, Forest Park police will be able to access the security feeds any time.

“When you’re adding a dispensary, you’re adding those features, you’re adding security to your neighborhood,” Zaveduk said.

He said the company will hire locally, reaching out online and posting “old-fashioned” fliers with tear-off tabs at grocery stores and other public locations.

Acting commission chair Kerri McBride asked whether Justice Cannabis experienced any loitering issues. Zaveduk responded that they intend to strictly enforce the state law prohibiting cannabis consumption in public and call police if necessary – but he doesn’t expect it to be much of an issue.

“Our typical purchaser, as we say — no one is going to sit in the parking lot and partake,” he said. “That’s not why they’re purchasing it.”

About 20 people showed up to the meeting.  Phil Moeller, the developer behind Forest Oaks, said that he shared concerns he heard from many of the development’s residents.

“We do not agree [with Justice Cannabis’ assertion] that the proposed dispensary will not disturb existing residents living adjacent to the facility,” he said. “The petitioners failed to take properly into consideration immediate surrounding uses.”

Gino Pisani, who recently moved to Forest Park from River Forest, argued that the lot was a gateway into Forest Park – and the village should put something else there.

“It could be a new village hall, it could really make the suburbs something special,” he said. “Bed Bath and Beyond is leaving — I think that would be a better site for a dispensary, because it’s not a prime site.”

Edward Lee said that he lives 2.5 blocks from the site, and, as someone who used to take the el to work, he was familiar with safety concerns. But based on what he’s seen in dispensaries in other states, he didn’t share other speakers’ concerns.

“From a security standpoint, you know, they really go through a lot of measures to make sure that people are safe. It’s just what I experienced,” he said.