Saline Adds Another Restriction on Marijuana Businesses


Saline City Council continues to add restrictions on marijuana businesses.

City council voted 5-1 in favor of Ordinance 855, which changes the city's ordinances on new marijuana businesses in several ways. The biggest change is a new 250-foot buffer that's required between city parks and museums for marijuana provisioning centers.

This ordinance became an issue when Councillor Dean Girbach, former president of the Saline Area Historical Society, was unhappy that two marijuana businesses applied to open behind the Rentschler Farm Museum, owned by the city and operated by the historical society. The 250-foot buffer is seen as a compromise because the city was considering a 1000-foot buffer. Girbach and other council members cited the need for buffers between marijuana businesses and public or quasi-public facilities.

The amendments do not apply to those owners who applied to the city under the original rules.

The amendment was moved by Councillor Girbach and seconded by Councillor Jim Dell'Orco.

"I do know that a 500 or 750 (foot buffer) might be better to address it but the concern that we want to not necessarily zone out everything in the city - I believe this is at least a fair compromise," Girbach said. "It at least addresses the issue closer to our museum and such."

In the past, Girbach has argued that the museums need buffer rules because school children visit them.  Girbach did not articulate his actual concern - or why marijuana dispensaries are anymore dangerous than liquor stores. The Depot Museum is only 100 feet away from a liquor store.

Councillor Nicole Rice voted no on the ordinance. She said she was excited about the possibility of vacant or underutilized property being redeveloped for the proposed dispensaries and does not want to thwart positive development. 

"I don't want to get to a point where we zone ourselves out of opportunity. Marijuana is not going to go away, just as liquor stores have never gone away," Rice said. "As long as we keep retail sales out of the hands of individuals under the age of 21, I am comfortable with the applicants and retail sales that we are bringing forward. I don't want to limit ourselves to creating these not-in-my-backyard areas. I don't think that's fair to the business owners. I don't think that's fair to the patrons of these retail facilities."

The amendment also requires a marijuana business to submit a new application if they seek to change location, putting to rest any notion that an operator could move to a new location in the city after issuance. There are several other changes to the amendment.

Community Development Director Ben Harrington, answering a question from Councillor Janet Dillon, noted that the new school at St. Andrew would essentially zone out all west-side land for new dispensaries. Again, that does not apply to Rush, already open, and the other dispensary planned nearby because they are grandfathered in with the original ordinance.

What happens if those businesses sell? Would new owners be grandfathered in? That depends, Harrington told Dillon. If a business sold and didn't materially change and reopened quickly, it would likely maintain its permit.

"If they just change signage and the interior of the building that would fall under the site plan. But if they stop services so the applicants removed themselves from the store and a new applicant wants to come in they could then become buffered out at that point in time by our new ordinance," Harrington explained.

The original city code governing marijuana businesses prevents establishments in the downtown district. The same city ordinance also prevents marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet of schools.  City officials were caught off guard when seven different entities applied to start marijuana businesses in the city, so they began enacting restrictions.

The first tweak of the ordinance called for a 1,000-foot buffer between marijuana businesses. When two marijuana businesses applied to open near the Rentschler Farm Museum, council began conversations about buffer zones for city parks and museums.

While council has taken a harder line in regulating marijuana businesses, it once had plans to sell the city's last remaining Michigan Avenue property to a company with plans to build a retail marijuana establishment. That deal fell through.

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