Commission recommends recreational marijuana zoning changes

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 1, 2019

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BERKLEY — The city of Berkley is moving forward with a key part of allowing recreational marijuana businesses in its downtown.

At its Sept. 24 meeting, the Planning Commission in a 7-1 vote recommended zoning regulation changes to the city’s code for the City Council to consider on where recreational marijuana businesses could be located and how the approval process for selecting them would go. The commission gave the recommendation on the condition that the process involve a special land use.

According to city documents, businesses only would be allowed on strips of 11 Mile and 12 Mile roads, Coolidge Highway, and Woodward Avenue. They also would be prohibited from being located within 1,000 feet of schools. The drafted licensing ordinance would allow up to three business to locate in Berkley.

The special land use was not in the original plans. Describing the proposed process at the beginning of the discussion at the meeting, Community Development Director Erin Schlutow said that Berkley was aiming for the approval process to go through administrative review rather than a special land use, as the city felt that a special land use would limit the city in how it could go about choosing the businesses it wants to be in town.

“We are proposing to move these through and collect all of the applications at once, going through a very rigorous matrix of regulations. … This would allow us to kind of whittle down some of those applications that are necessarily incomplete or don’t fit with the goals and objectives of the master plan,” she said. “Those remaining properties that would be eligible for the business license would then be presented to the Planning Commission, and you would review their site plan. So the Planning Commission would still have a review component as part of this process, just not through the special land use public hearing process.”

The matrix was set up to be a merit-system-based way to grade businesses and find the ones that would best fit in Berkley. The checklist can be found on www.berkleymich.org under the city’s “Now Trending” and “Marihuana in Berkley” tabs.

A special land use process would send a site plan and application to the Planning Commission for review. A public hearing would be held on the project, where the commission could give a recommendation for approval or denial for the City Council to consider. The council would then take action on the special land use.

Going with an administrative review process was negatively received by the Planning Commission. Planning Commissioner Michele Buckler said that the public has a right to make comments on these businesses, because they are not just any other businesses.

“There will be controversy about where they go,” she said. “I think the administrative process, the criteria (marijuana businesses must meet) ... those could be easily built into the special use designation. That checklist could be referenced and … put in there in its entirety, and we can consider those as well. I, frankly, do not believe this belongs just in the administrative hands.”

The criteria referenced is a set of five regulations a business must meet to locate in Berkley. The first four criteria are that a “Marihuana Business must front on a major thoroughfare with the primary pedestrian ingress/egress to face the major thoroughfare. If the property is a corner lot, the elevation that faces the major thoroughfare shall be considered the front; The Marihuana Business must have all applicable state and local licenses and approvals to operate; The property where the Marihuana Business will be located must be entirely within the boundaries of the City, and must not be within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades 1 through 12; and notwithstanding any other provision in the zoning ordinance, a Marihuana Business must operate within a fully enclosed building.”

The fifth criteria listed states that “the City shall prefer the Marihuana Business to be located at least 500 (feet), measured from the edge of the right-of-way,” away from the following intersections: 11 Mile and Greenfield roads; 11 Mile and Coolidge Highway; 11 Mile and Woodward Avenue; 12 Mile Road and Greenfield; 12 Mile and Coolidge; and 12 Mile and Woodward.

Because of opposition from some Planning Commission members on the fifth criteria, Schlutow told the Woodward Talk it could be removed in the future.

Schlutow stated that going with the administrative review process was done with the mindset that otherwise, the city would be beholden to set a public hearing for every application that comes through as a special land use.

“This would then put the responsibility of everything onto the Planning Commission and making sure that, if you’re only allowing three licenses, then sensibly you have to vote on each and every one that would come in,” she said. “It could present as a first-come, first-served process for those applications that are coming forward, as opposed to the ones that fit more cohesively within the city in the community.”

Planning Commission Chairperson Kristen Kapelanski proposed implementing the merit system process along with a special land use. City Manager Matt Baumgarten said there was concern from the city that opposition from residents regarding a business that could be located near their homes would be a factor in a business not locating in the downtown.

“I don’t want to give anyone (who is a resident) the sense that despite the fact they’re ... upset, they were ignored because (proximity to homes) simply wasn’t one of the standards (for approval), and so that was our concern,” he said.

Baumgarten said that the Planning Commission could make a recommendation to the council with the addendum that it must be done through a special land use.

He also noted that residents can cite the five criteria in why a particular location wouldn’t be the best place for a business to locate.

“We just didn’t want to put Planning Commission in the situation of yielding great outcry and having to make, again, an unpopular decision based on finite standards,” Baumgarten said.

Kapelanski appreciated the concern from the city, but said the commission could wade through what is general opposition to “a use that maybe is not something that most people would want to see in the community versus if it’s adversely impacting the properties around it.

“As a commission, we feel confident in judging that standard, and we understand, I think, and appreciate that maybe the administration and council was not trying to put us in a difficult position,” she said. “But I think what you’re hearing in general is we want to be in that position, that we do want to hear from the residents.”

The commission did move the ordinance forward with the recommendation that it goes as a special land use, which gathered the support of the board members. The next City Council meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 7, when a first reading of the ordinance could be held.

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