Government, Health Care, and Real Estate

City mulls medical marijuana waivers

Ordinance places a 1,000-foot separation distance between marijuana businesses and ‘sensitive’ land uses.

August 16, 2019
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Several medical marijuana waivers are being scrutinized by the Grand Rapids City Commission for their proximity to city parks.

The city commission held a public hearing last week to consider waivers of separation distance requirements for six proposed medical marijuana facilities. Medical marijuana applicants filed park separation distance waivers for proposed facilities at:

  • Ken-O-Sha Park for businesses at 910 and 940 28th St. SE

  • 1000 Ken-O-Sha Industrial Park Drive SE

  • Fuller Park for a business at 1109 Michigan St. NE

  • Highland Park for 549 and 551 Michigan St. NE

  • Belknap Park for 49 Coldbrook St. NE

According to information from the planning commission, 1000 Ken-O-Sha Industrial Park is requesting a waiver to both distribute and grow medicinal marijuana on-site.

The city’s medical marijuana ordinance, which was adopted in July 2018, places a 1,000-foot separation distance between marijuana businesses and several land uses deemed “sensitive” by the city.

Publicly owned parks and playgrounds are considered sensitive uses, as well as child care centers, religious institutions, zoned residential districts and licensed substance use treatment centers.

The ordinance also allows the planning commission to waive the required separation distance for publicly owned parks with input from the landowner.

Because the city owns the parks, the city commission can object to requests for waivers. The planning commission will take the city’s objections, if any, under consideration when deciding whether to grant waivers.

The city commission adopted Policy 900-57 in December 2018, which defined criteria for the city commission to consider whether to object to a waiver being granted for marijuana facilities located within 1,000 feet of a city-owned park or playground. These include:

  • Whether it is consistent with and does not materially impair the purpose and intent of the city’s parks and recreation master plan

  • Potential burden on city or other public services, including park maintenance and operations

  • Potential mitigation measures that may be utilized by the prospective marijuana facility to reduce impacts on the park

  • Whether any conditions exist, including topographic or environmental barriers or orientation of entrances of the park or marijuana facility that would reduce potential detrimental impacts

  • The orientation of the sensitive use and/or location of its primary entrance(s) that increases the practical distance of the sensitive use from the proposed facility

In the case of Belknap Park, for example, the park is at a much higher elevation than the proposed facility on Coldbrook.

Commissioner Kurt Reppart clarified the three proposed facilities near Ken-O-Sha Park will not all be considered for waivers. If a waiver is granted for one proposal, it would knock out the other two.

In an email to the city clerk, Amanda Moore, president of the Alger Heights Neighborhood Association, urged the city commission to consider waiving the distance requirements for the 28th Street facilities near Ken-O-Sha Park. 

In her email, Moore argued Plaster Creek and the Plaster Creek Trail form natural barriers between businesses and the park and should prevent any negative impacts to the park. Apartment complexes between Ken-O-Sha and 28th Street also serve as buffers.

“Both companies seeking waivers for the 28th Street locations have reached out to neighbors on numerous occasions,” Moore said. “They have been met with curiosity and general acceptance from neighbors given the location and desire to improve properties along 28th Street.”

Max Grover, a real estate agent living in Alger Heights, argued in favor of granting a waiver to 910 28th St. SE on the grounds that it has stood vacant for a long time, and new business could help revitalize the area.

“I had the fortune — or misfortune — of having 910 28th Street listed for a very long time as the real estate broker,” Grover said. “I actually took the listing on originally because I kept driving by the building and I knew it was an absentee owner that had never seen the property, and I really wanted to see somebody take that project on and develop it.”

Grover added the property is within the district for medical marijuana use, and the group he represents is taking on a major project to redevelop the property and make it safer and more functional for the community.

One of the applicants, Patrick Frakes, COO of the cannabis company Rair Systems, offered comment at the hearing. Frakes said the proposed locations at 549 and 551 Michigan St. NE have no visibility of Highland Park.

“I spent 15 years prior to getting into this business working with youth sports,” Frakes said. “It is really emphatically clear to me that the safest way to protect your children is through legalization of these businesses. These transactions are occurring in Grand Rapids every day as we speak, but nobody is checking kids’ IDs. Nobody is expressing what our business is doing and looking to express and be an educational resource.”

Not all communications were positive at the meeting. Mike Fassbender, who owns Action Molding and Machining located in Ken-O-Sha Park, argued a facility in proximity to his operations would threaten safety and productivity.

“I know of no proof from what I’ve read of any medicinal value of marijuana,” Fassbender said. “I know in the military, we were not allowed or encouraged to use marijuana, so I am frightened to think a dispensary and, it also says a grower, would be near where our over 50 staff operate and maintain industrial machinery. And these are all skilled trade jobs … that pay, I would imagine, better than the person selling the dope.”

Another business owner, Carl Bossenbroek, founder of Split Rock Logistics in Ken-O-Sha Park, urged the city commission to object to waivers for medical marijuana.

“In our business, we have about 100 trucks, 125 drivers, and per DOT regulations, they can have no trace of marijuana at all in their system,” Bossenbroek said. “My concern is that … as my drivers are there on off-duty hours, that temptation across the street is real, and someday, it will be recreational.”

The city commission is expected to consider whether to object to the waiver requests at its Aug. 27 meeting.

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