It's high time

Forest Park is now zoned for recreational pot

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By Maria Maxham

The Forest Park Village Council voted on recreational marijuana zoning at a meeting on Jan. 13, officially establishing where the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and transportation of cannabis will be allowed in town and potentially opening the doors to a previously unavailable source of income for the village.

Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke, who presented staff zoning recommendations at the meeting, said the village should take advantage of the opportunity before it.

"[Recreational marijuana] is one of those rare new revenue streams that, frankly, the village doesn't get often," said Glinke during his presentation to the council.

His recommendations on zoning were slightly different from those of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which were the amendments up for vote by the village council at the Jan. 13 meeting. Glinke, who oversees zoning for the village of Forest Park, urged the council to accept the recreational marijuana zoning code amendments he had originally presented to the ZBA at the Dec. 17 meeting rather than the ZBA recommendations, which included one change.

The sticking point was whether marijuana dispensaries in the I-2 district would be listed as a "permitted" or "conditional" use. The I-2, or heavy industrial district, includes the Forest Park Mall on Roosevelt Road and the U.S. Postal Service facility. It also includes the businesses along Industrial Drive. 

Conditional use in this case would mean that a business planning to operate as a dispensary in that zone would need to appear in two public meetings, once before the ZBA and once before the village council. At both meetings, whether they would be allowed to open in Forest Park would be determined by vote of the board or council. Permitted use would mean they could open "by right," without any public hearings, provided they followed all rules laid forth in the zoning code.

In order to keep Forest Park attractive to investors, Glinke urged the council to accept staff's original recommendation to allow a dispensary as a permitted use in the I-2 district, not a conditional use as the ZBA recommended.

"From a strictly economic standpoint, we need to be competitive, and having a space that's plug and play, that's ready to move in, is, I think, important," said Glinke. "There's a lot of competition for these licenses," he added. "And frankly, zoning scares people." The idea of two public hearings, he said, has the potential to push investors away. "These [investors] have a lot of money on the table, and they want to get their product out to the public as soon as possible."

Glinke said he felt comfortable with permitted use for dispensaries in the I-2 because of its differences from the other districts.

"The I-districts have specific characteristics that aren't shared by other districts — most notably not being buffered by residential districts," said Glinke. "Most residential properties aren't even within the notice distance. If we were to do a 200-foot notice [as required for ZBA meetings], nobody would be getting a letter from the village as an announcement for the hearing."

Glinke mentioned that he doesn't often recommend something different from the ZBA's suggestions. "We value the ZBA's service — they're a terrific group of people I've worked closely with for 10 years now," he said. "Having a difference of opinion with the ZBA is pretty rare."

Seeing marijuana being sold in other towns — medical dispensaries were allowed to start selling recreationally on Jan. 1 — allowed administrators to see the impact.

"It's here," said Glinke, referring to legal marijuana. "We have the benefit of witnessing the rollout and seeing it's not anarchy or reefer madness."

Glinke added that at the public ZBA meeting, nobody showed up to speak against the recommended zoning amendments.

"There was not a great deal of public participation in the [Dec. 17 ZBA] meeting," said Glinke. "And absolutely no one from the public who came out spoke out against dispensaries. There is a comfort level that the community has. A comfort level that staff has. And we stand by our recommendation."

Commissioner Ryan Nero said that when he and other commissioners were running for office, phrases like "making Forest Park easy to do business with" were used frequently during the campaigns.

"Some of the zoning requirements we're talking about right now fall into that realm," said Nero. "As a resident and elected official, I've spent a lot of time going back and forth on what I think is the right thing for Forest Park. One overarching theme we have to be cognizant of is the potential revenue stream. Being competitive with our surrounding communities is an important thing." 

Commissioner Jessica Voogd agreed, thanking Glinke for the time and consideration he put into the recommendations. "You kept most of it conditional use," said Voogd, "and you've carefully selected this one area that's well buffered from the residential area [to allow dispensaries as permitted use]. We want to be appealing to new businesses, and the state's done a good job of limiting the number of licenses at first, and I think it would be best to amend to the staff version."

The vote was to accept the proposed ordinance as amended to reflect staff's recommendation regarding the I-2 district (permitted use). All other districts were kept as written in the proposed ordinance up before the council (conditional use). Mayor Rory Hoskins and commissioners Voogd, Nero and Joe Byrnes voted in favor of the amended proposal from the ZBA. Commissioner Dan Novak abstained.

The accepted zoning for recreational marijuana in Forest Park is as follows:

Community Shopping District

In these areas, defined as the B-2 District, adult-use cannabis distribution will be added as conditional use within a 500-foot distance of schools and churches. This district includes sections of Roosevelt Road and Harlem Avenue.

Downtown Business District (DBD)

In the DBD, marijuana dispensaries will be allowed as conditional use. The DBD is primarily the Madison Street shopping area of Forest Park.

Light Industrial District

In the light industrial or I-1 district, manufacturing, cultivation, transportation and distribution of recreational cannabis will be allowed as conditional use. This district includes the area south of Roosevelt Road to 16th Street between Hannah Avenue and Circle Avenue.

Heavy Industrial District

In the heavy industrial or I-2 district, manufacturing, cultivation, distribution and transportation will be permitted uses. This district includes the Forest Park Mall on Roosevelt Road and the U.S. Postal Service facility. It also includes the businesses along Industrial Drive.

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