Council votes to change ordinance language on marijuana facilities

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 13, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — At its meeting March 9, the Madison Heights City Council voted 4-2 to remove ordinance language containing setback footage requirements for medical marijuana facilities.

Previously, the ordinance required at least 500 feet of separation between marijuana facilities and homes, schools, churches and child care centers.

Now the city will rely on a map of eligible parcels, called “green zones.” All but one of the parcels is already 500 feet or more from homes, schools, churches and child care centers.

However, the map can be changed in the future, adding or subtracting parcels. Parcels that are added in the future will not require any specific setback footage. Instead, it will be left to the council’s discretion to decide any separation on a case-by-case basis.

Marijuana facilities will still be limited to certain zoning, however — either M-1 light industrial or M-2 heavy industrial. Safety compliance facilities can also be located in an O-1 office building district.

Those who voted to remove the ordinance language for setback requirements are Mayor Pro Tem Roslyn Grafstein and council members Emily Rohrbach, Kymm Clark and Mark Bliss. The dissenting votes were made by David Soltis and Robert Corbett. Mayor Brian Hartwell was absent and did not vote that night. He had previously supported the proposal on first reading Feb. 10.

The ordinance change was prompted by the situation at 2 Ajax Drive, where Alternative RX is turning the former Madison Athletic Club into a grow operation, processing center and provisioning center. Alternative RX is around 400 feet from a home, the result of what city staff said was a clerical error.  

The vote followed a substitute motion by Soltis and supported by Corbett and Bliss that would have added verbiage to the ordinance requiring at least 320 feet of separation from homes, schools, churches and child care centers. The language would also add parks to the list.

However, this motion was defeated by Grafstein, Clark and Rohrbach.

Soltis said his proposal would provide a buffer for future parcels.

“In my mind, I didn’t want to see anything less than 1,000 feet setback. Then we went to 500 feet and now nothing. I feel that at least 320 feet would be better than nothing, and that it should only be in heavy industrial zoning, not right in the middle of town,” Soltis said.

He noted that he never wanted the marijuana industry in Madison Heights in the first place, and that he never accepted any donations from the industry to his campaign.  

“I’m just trying to provide some sort of a safety net if any parcels are added in the future, including restrictions for schools, preschools, parks — areas that you’d think are important for us to protect for the sake of our kids,” Soltis said. “I feel there should be some guarantee of a buffer there. This was a compromise since there are already businesses that were awarded licenses by the rest of City Council. However, I never wanted these businesses here.”   

Rohrbach explained that she voted against the substitute motion because allowing 320 feet would have potentially re-qualified and re-included some parcels that had been discarded when the new map was crafted, since the new map still aimed to maintain a 500-foot setback for every parcel except the one at 2 Ajax Drive.

Bliss said that Alternative RX could sue the city if the city backs out of its deal. Mike Bahoura, the co-owner and general counsel of Alternative RX, was previously asked if his company would sue the city if the deal is ended, to which he responded: “I’m confident that the city will make the necessary changes to the ordinance.” Bahoura also previously noted that the project will cost more than $7 million to complete, and will beautify a property facing a major road.

Regarding Soltis’ substitute motion, Bliss said it would have been a smart compromise since it calls for at least some degree of separation in the event more “green zones” are added in the future. In any case, the council would need to approve any changes to the map or ordinance with two majority votes.      

“I still hate that we had to go back and amend this ordinance, but I’m happy that this council was able to come to a decision that put this behind us. I have also formally called on city staff to release the details of our new policy on social media that will prevent errors like this from occurring in the future,” Bliss said. “This wasn’t an easy decision, but one that had to be made for our city to move forward from this costly clerical error.

“I commend Councilman Soltis, who previously voted against the marijuana ordinance, for coming to the table with a substitute motion that also would have been a suitable solution,” he said. “In the end, I voted in favor of both proposals, and I’m thrilled that at least one of them passed so we can move forward without the risk of litigation.”

Corbett agreed with Soltis that a 320-foot setback requirement for future parcel additions would have been better than no setback requirement at all.

“At the end of the day, the parties can color this any way they want, but the fact of the matter is the City Council removed one layer of protection from residents,” Corbett said.

But Rohrbach said it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be an issue.

“As of now, there are only two dispensary licenses that have been allowed in the city, and the businesses that have gotten those licenses are in the process of renovating the buildings they have purchased. To allow for future additions, the council would have to revisit the entire ordinance,” Rohrbach stated in an email.

“So many things would have to happen in this hypothetical scenario. The council would have to decide to amend the ordinance to allow for additional licenses; those licenses would have to be granted to someone who insists on using a building or parcel outside of the green zone; the Zoning Board (of Appeals) would have to consider expanding the map; and all of this would have to line up with a council that is irresponsible to the point of being fine with medical marijuana businesses next door to a school or playground. This hypothetical situation is not based in reality.”

Grafstein agreed with Rohrbach that the final ordinance change is for the best.

“The map that the four council members raising minor children, ages 5-15, voted for does not reduce or eliminate a 500-foot buffer, but actually removes a few properties, with this amendment solidifying the more restrictive map to be controlling,” Grafstein said in an email.

Hartwell and Clark did not respond to requests for comment by press time.  

Madison Heights has a limited number of marijuana-related licenses that can be issued, including a maximum of two each for grow operations, processing centers and provisioning centers. Those licenses are held by Alternative RX and GS Ashley/Holistic Industries — the latter to be located at the site of the former Fairlanes Bowling Alley, 29600 Stephenson Highway.

The remaining licenses include four licenses for secure transporter businesses and another four licenses for safety compliance facilities, which at press time had not been granted. The council can change the number of allowed licenses in the future.