Two Proposed Marijuana Dispensaries Take Steps Forward at Saline City Council

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A rendering of what the Lume Cannabis Co store could look like on Michigan Avenue.

Two proposed retail marijuana outlets took steps forward at the Saline City Council meeting Monday.

The Lume Cannabis Co. project planned for 1080 E. Michigan Ave., on land being purchased from the City of Saline, garnered council's approval for a special land use to sell marijuana. Council voted 6-0 to grant special land use. Councillor Dawn Krause, who moved out of the city but refused to resign her post, was absent.

The Woods project is planned for 7608 E Michigan Ave. The retail store will be built on a grassy lot next to the Tractor Supply Store.  This matter spurred more debate. Council voted 4-2 to approve the special land use.

Both the Lume and Woods proposals were criticized by members of the public.

One resident of Berwyk Park told council the Lume project was less than 1,000 feet from the door. He said there are well over 100 citizens in the neighborhood and families within 500 feet of the property. He said there's also a driving school nearby.

"I'm just thinking about driving down Michigan Ave and what I will see as a reflection of the community - a community which is about family. A business sends a message. It might be subliminal. But it's sending a message about the character of the community," he said. "What I like about Saline is the character of the community."

He said communities like Adrian and Ann Arbor could meet Saline's demand for marijuana products. He said the products are dangerous and killing our children.

Councillor Janet Dillon asked whether granting a special land use for the project was putting the "cart before the horse" since the parcel may yet be subdivided.  Community Development Director Ben Harrington said that would depend on whether or not the changes constinuted "material change" in the site.

Jack Ceo said he understood and agreed with the concerns of the citizen who spoke out against the development, but, he said, the people spoke at the ballot box.

"I would just say that I gree with you and in your sentiments, exactly. However, I need to remind you, sir, we're governed by the fact that the majority of the citizens in the state voted to legitimize this kind of a business," Ceo said. And then the city studied the issue, with Ceo leading the task force.

"When we did a survey in contemplation of passing our local ordinance. The survey overwhelmingly reflected citizens were in favor of this kind of a business in our community. So even though individually we may or may not be in favor of that, we're still I think governed by the majority in a democratic society and that's why I'm going to vote in favor of this," Ceo said.

The city and developer are still talking about the developability of the back portion of the 6.5 acre site. The developer has concerns about wetlands and erosion.

The second proposal faced more scrutiny. At the Dec. 5 meeting, the motion to approve the special land use stalled with a 3-3 vote.

Councillor Jim Dell'Orco broke the tie at this meeting, switching sides to vote with Mayor Brian Marl and Councillors Jack Ceo and Kevin Camero-Sulak. Councillors Janet Dillon and Dean Girbach voted no.

Dell'Orco said many of the concerns he had were answered by city attorneys. Previously, representatives from Huntington Bank opposed the marijuana development because it would share an easement. The bank doesn't view a marjuana store as a family-friendly business.

Dell'Orco said the other factor in his vote was that the city's legal counsel spelled out the definition of the word "harmonious" as it exists in the ordinance that governs special land use requests. 

But, said Harrington, city attorneys have reviewed the concern and decided that it's a private concern not relevant to the deliberations about the SLU. 

Councillor Dean Girbach previously opposed the project on the grounds that the building was next to the city's Rentschler Farm Museum, which hosts school children several times a year.  Hosting school children, however, does not make a building an institution of education - which would prevent a pot dispensary within 1,000 feet.

Girbach said he'll continue to push the city to draft an ordinance prohibiting dispensaries within 500 feet of a public park or museum.

Council was blasted by west-side resident Ben Goodman for its decision to grant an SLU for a pot store so close to the Rentschler Farm Musuem and Nu2U resale store - which employs students who have special needs.

"It's obvious that some people here care about kids and some of you don't," Goodman said. "You swore to protect everybody in this community when you took an oath of office and tonight you failed me, you failed my kids because my kids attend that farm and I will have a son that has the potential to work at Nu2U Again."

What's become clear is that even council members who supported pot dispensaries are a little discouraged that efforts to regulate the industry.

Councillor Dell'Orco, who helped draft marijuana ordinances on the Code Review Committeee, said he and other members of the committee were urged by the previous legal counsel to regulate the industry with zoning regulations and buffers - and to avoid a cap.

"That method is somehow failing us," Dell'Orco said.

Dell'Orco suggested one of Saline's empty storefronts might be a better location for the disepnsary.

"My concern as a council member has been that in this small community this particular business is becoming oversaturated. An number will succeed and a number will fail and I hate to see a building that will end up vacant," Dell'Orco said. "That being said, the legal memo we were provided seems to provide no legal basis or justification by which we can deny this applicant."

The city's new attorney said past counsel gave the city council good advice when it steered the city away from caps and scoring basis, and toward zoning and buffers. He said he has litigation with marijuana businesses into too many communities  that went the cap or scoring routes.

In related news, while discussing revenue and spending issues during the work meeting earlier in the evening, Treasurer Elle Colle explained the city could net $50,000 per dispensary, per year, on top of regular property taxes.

Some of that 10 percent retail tax on marijuana collected by the state is sent back to the cities. It's estimated the city will receive $56,400 per facility.

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