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CHEBOYGAN — After coming to a consensus on setbacks for religious institutions, the Cheboygan City Planning Commission voted 4-1, with two members absent, to recommend to the Cheboygan City Council that they approve a proposed medical marijuana ordinance.

The planning commission has been discussing this matter for several months, during which several changes to the draft ordinance were made. The planning commission members were also able to see visual representation on maps of the city, to see differences between the different proposed setbacks for medical marijuana facilities from schools and religious institutions.

“OK, so we’ve got two ordinances here,” said planning commission chair James Granger. “Let’s start with the thicker of the two, in terms of number of pages. This is the one, the ordinance that identifies setbacks.”

This first ordinance discussed by the planning commission was basically the “opt in ordinance” for the city, allowing medical marijuana facilities within city limits.

“The other ordinance is an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, to allow medical marijuana in specific zones,” said city manager Tom Eustice. “It basically states where provisioning centers can go and the other four categories can only go in the light industrial zoning.”

There have been several smaller changes made to the opt in ordinance over the last several months, but the biggest change is the setting of distance, how far away each facility needed to be from schools or churches.

In the ordinance, as it will be presented to city council, the proposed setbacks for medical marijuana facilities, such as dispensaries and growing operations, from schools, will be 1,000 feet. It was also proposed in the same ordinance that setback from churches and other religious institutions would be 500 feet.

The planning commission members were split when discussing what setback from churches should be. Two members, Roger Kopernik and Bill Horntvedt, were in favor of reducing setbacks to 250 feet, to allow for more potential property opportunities for these facilities. Christine Khan-King and David Kronberg were in favor of keeping setbacks at 500, to allow for more cushion between businesses and religious institutions.

Horntvedt said, after viewing accurate maps of the city showing the difference between the 500 foot and 250 foot setbacks, there really wasn’t that much of a difference.

“That being the case, small pockets, especially on the east side, open up a little bit with 250. I recommend that it be 250,” said Horntvedt. “I actually want it to be zero, but 250, now that I see that map, and see that the difference is negligible, but there is a little bit of difference and it creates a little bit of supply for property, I would say 250. Everything else in the ordinance is fine with me.”

Kronberg was against making the change to 250 feet. The city does have the option of changing the setback distance in the future, if there is an issue with the availability of property outside of the setbacks within city limits. This can be done by having a public hearing to amend the ordinance.

“I also agree with the 500 setbacks, as it is in the ordinance,” said Khan-King. “After our discussion with the community members last time, I feel like that’s where they would like us to go with that, and I support them.”

A motion was made to approve the ordinance as it had been presented to them, with the 500 foot setback from churches and religious institutions and 1,000 feet from schools. This motion passed in a four to one vote, with Kopernik voting against.

Horntvedt said he would like it on the record that he had changed his mind on the setbacks, from 250 to 500, because he didn’t want to delay the process another month. He knows fellow planning commission member Linda Rogers was in favor of the 500 setbacks, and the city is able to change the setback if needed.

“But, originally, I was going to vote no for it,” he said.

After that motion passed, the planning commission also voted unanimously to recommend to the city council that they approve the ordinance, thereby authorizing establishment of medical marijuana facilities in the city.

“I think this is a well crafted,” said Kronberg. “It gives us a lot of control in the future for this type of operation. So, bravo.”

The second ordinance was an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, establishing districts in which medical marijuana facilities can be located.

“These are identified, basically it’s the B-2 and B-3 business districts where the retail facilities can be and the light or heavy industrial zoning for the growing and processing facilities, for transporting to the retail,” said Granger.

These types of facilities are not allowed within residential areas, so they have to be located in business or industrial districts.

This was passed in a four to one vote, recommending that the city council adopt the amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, with Kronberg voting against.

Eustice said what will happen now is a public hearing will be set by city council next Tuesday evening. He does believe they have the time frame where the hearing can be set for the first meeting in February, on Feb. 11. There is a 15 day notice requirement that needs to be followed.

Pastor Matt Reisinger of the Cheboygan Wesleyan Church thanked the planning commission on behalf of the Cheboygan Area Ministerial Association for conceding it and passing this ordinance. In his personal opinion, Reisinger said he can see there are benefits to the medical marijuana and he is hopeful that maybe these facilities can end up in some of the empty buildings in the city.

Kopernik thanked Reisinger for his comments and said he also feels that Cheboygan is kind of stepping out onto the front lines in Northern Michigan by moving forward with this ordinance. He also feels it is important for it to expand in the area, but it will be up to the individual townships to determine whether they allow the facilities in their area.

“And there’s a lot of them that are not for it,” said Kopernik. “So, I think, as I look at the permit process and all the regulations, somebody is going to go through a lot of hoops to bring something here. They’re really scrutinized, which is a good thing.”

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