By TOM LAVENTURE
Tom Bergman, director of community development, updated the commission from the previous workshop with a map that reflected concerns with more detailed restrictions with commercial marijuana within zoning commercial, industrial and light industrial that border with residential areas. He also addressed questions from commissioners regarding the ordinance review process requirements for applicants and the city’s competitive application process.
“We want real clear guidelines to the procedures after the ordinance is passed so that applicants will be very clear on what the expectations are from the city,” Bergman said, regarding permitted and conditional use permits presented to the planning commission and city commission.
The updated map now prohibits commercial marijuana businesses from the downtown core area all the way to the Montreal River. Growing operations and processors are limited to the city industrial park and industrial zoning districts, while U.S. 2/Cloverland Drive remains a commercial area for marijuana microbusinesses and retail establishments. The change to the U.S. 2 corridor is that development is restricted to highway frontage properties and not allowed on commercially zoned property that are not fronting the highway.
This was a response from commissioner concerns in the previous workshop that there was potential for commercial businesses to open in residential neighborhoods that are zoned commercial
The existing buffers were essentially expanded by prohibiting commercial marijuana businesses where they come up against buffer borders, Bergman said. This is substantially more restrictive than when the mapping effort started, he said.
“Any parcel touched by a buffer is no longer permitted to have an establishment,” Bergman said.
Other added restrictions to the C3 manufacturing and industrial districts include areas where they border residential areas directly or already exist in residential areas, he said. If an establishment exists next to a residential home the planning commission and city commission would have the ability to include certain mitigation requirements such as screening, he said.
A small buffer zone was added to the four corners that make the Curry Street and Cloverland Drive intersection, Bergman said. The intersection is where buses and parents turn onto Curry Street from the highway to reach Luther L. Wright School.
“We decided that we would create a little bit of a protective overlay to that area as well,” Bergman said.
The commissioners also reviewed the conditional use process regarding requirements for permitted use that qualify for a zoning district, and for conditional uses that are considered through a review process of the planning commission and city commission to include a public hearing.
“The public can come in and make comments on the project and proposal,” Bergman said. “The planning commission weighs comments along with ensuring the application is meeting the spirit of the ordinance in terms of protecting the bordering residences and trying to remove any type of conflict.”
The marijuana ordinance adds the additional review of the application by the city commission after the planning commission’s decision on a recommendation, he said. This helps to ensure that any proposal is harmonious with, and in accordance with the city objectives, and specifically to protect the public welfare and is consistent with the intent and purpose of the city’s comprehensive plan, he said.
“We can require specific conditions of an applicant to protect the public welfare,” Bergman said. “It is also designed to create a situation where the commission would be comfortable in granting a permit that shares a property line with a residential property and where the owner is concerned.”
Commissioner Rick Semo asked Bergman to clarify in the ordinance if an applicant who is denied a permit would need to resubmit another $5,000 fee to be considered again for a different location.
“It seems like an important piece to have a really clear picture of how it’s going to work,” Semo said.
Commissioner Kim Corcoran asked Bergman to provide a map version to show what types of businesses, such as commercial manufacturing, testing, transportation or retail marijuana product sales are allowed in any given zoning area to include the buffers.
Bergman said the trend in municipality ordinances around Michigan has been to create or revise ordinances that strictly control where commercial marijuana businesses may locate, but to let the market control the number of permits. He mentioned Houghton and Marquette as examples in the Upper Peninsula.
“That does not mean that we should do that but I wanted you to be aware of what other communities are doing,” Bergman said.
Stosh Wasik, a recreational marijuana business owner in Marquette, listened to the meeting and said during the public comment portion that the ordinance seems to be coming together nicely. He had one suggestion regarding signage restrictions that he thinks could make it difficult or confusing to find these locations.
“The signage restrictions on the state level are already rather restrictive on what we are allowed to use for advertising and what we are not,” Wasick said. “I read what was in the (proposed city) ordinance and the black and white with the 3-inch lettering seems even more extreme, I would say, to the point where it might be troubling for consumers to find a location to potentially push customers as unwanted traffic to other businesses asking where to find them.”
Burchell said at the previous meeting that it was important to develop an ordinance that was flexible in what types of commercial marijuana sectors would be allowed in the city. In a state where recreational marijuana use is legal an ordinance is the responsible way to allow, at minimum, a couple of retail outlets with products that have been tested and follow all the state guidelines, she said.