Royal Oak moves forward with recreational marijuana

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 21, 2020

Shutterstock image


ROYAL OAK — In a 5-2 vote July 16, the Royal Oak City Commission approved the first readings of both a licensing and a zoning ordinance aimed at regulating recreational marijuana facilities in the city.

Under the licensing ordinance, the commission decided to permit two retail stores and two microbusinesses, with a maximum of one of each allowed in areas zoned general business. All four could potentially set up shop in areas zoned general industrial.

The commission also opted to allow one license for each of the seven other types of marijuana establishments besides retailers and microbusinesses: Class A, Class B and Class C growers; processors; safety compliance facilities; secure transporters; and co-located establishments in industrial zones.

“What we have here is a very, very limited number of establishments, so we can watch and learn how the impact is in our city,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said.

The license application in the proposed ordinance contains requirements including the applicant’s history of tax delinquencies, outstanding bills, general licensing, prior business in Royal Oak, criminal convictions and bankruptcies, as well as plans for energy efficiency and sustainable infrastructure.

The commission also added whether or not the applicant would have a living wage policy, a diversity equity inclusion policy, and a detailed community engagement plan.

Under the zoning ordinance, recreational marijuana facilities would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school. A 1,000-foot setback would be required between retailers, microbusinesses and provision centers, but no setback would be required between growers and processors.

Due to the 1,000-foot setback from schools, which is the maximum allowed under state law, most of the downtown district would be off the table due to St. Mary Catholic School on Lafayette Avenue, Director of Community Development Tim Thwing said.

The commission also directed staff to come back with two maps showing the number of viable recreational marijuana facility locations with additional setbacks of 250 feet and 500 feet, respectively, from churches and parks. Upon second reading, the commission could choose to include the additional setbacks.

Fewer viable locations for recreational marijuana facilities could skyrocket the cost of real estate, edging out smaller, more local or first-time operators — something several commissioners said they didn’t want to happen.

“If it’s way too restrictive, only some outside billionaire could afford to put one in,” Mayor Michael Fournier said.

The original map recommended by the Planning Commission allows for recreational marijuana in two zones: general business and general industrial. Under the proposed zoning ordinance, such facilities could be allowed in a potential 19 sites throughout the city — 11 within the general business area on Woodward Avenue, and eight within the general industrial area.

However, the caps in the licensing ordinance approved on first reading significantly decrease the actual number of approved operators.

Such facilities are prohibited from other commercial zoning districts, including neighborhood business, central business district, regional business, mixed use 1 and mixed use 2.

The commission also amended the zoning ordinance to increase required parking from 1 to 1.5 parking spaces for every 200 square feet of usable floor space.

“(Addressing parking) is important right out the gate, because we don’t know what the patterns are going to be, especially because of how long COVID goes on,” Fournier said. “Customers just become more adaptable to curbside pickup versus going into a store.”

The commission also voted unanimously to extend its moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities from Aug. 15 to Sept. 7. The extension will take effect 10 days after a second vote, so the commission opted to cover itself in case it could not come to a consensus on the second readings of the ordinances.

The second readings of the recreational marijuana licensing and zoning ordinances are set to take place at the next Royal Oak City Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 27.

Commissioners Randy LaVasseur and Kim Gibbs cast the two no votes on both ordinances. LaVasseur said he did not want recreational marijuana facilities in general business zones until the city conducted more public engagement, and Gibbs said she wanted more setbacks from churches and parks.

The city has not opted in to medical marijuana facilities.


Securing a spot
City Attorney David Gillam explained that, once the ordinances are on the books and the city develops an application, City Manager Paul Brake would establish a reasonable window of time for interested operators to submit applications.

Staff would perform a cursory review to make sure applications are complete, and if there is more information needed, would notify applicants that they have 10 business days to provide the information to be eligible for formal review.

“If it’s not corrected in 10 days, the application would be rejected and they could submit a brand new application, as long as it’s still in the window,” Gillam said.

Staff would then begin a competitive process to determine which applications should get priority in terms of the licensing process. Brake would order the applications, various city departments would also look at the applications, and the Planning Commission would simultaneously hold a public hearing for the special land use, Gillam said.

The City Commission would then vote on the special land use and whether a particular applicant should be granted a license, which would be obtained from the city clerk, at the same meeting.

Fournier added that every resident in the general vicinity of a potential recreational marijuana facility would be noticed as part of the special land use process. Residents, he said, would have the opportunity to learn more about individual site plans and raise concerns at the public hearing.

“That’s when we’ll really have a strong conversation about a very specific proposal in front of us and what the impacts are going to be,” he said. “We have a whole process we’re going to go through to weed out the bad actors, and the good actors that remain still have to get site approval.”

Thwing said he has already received inquiries from operators looking to set up shop in the city.


Resident response
While 55% of Michigan voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, 70% of Royal Oak voters approved Proposal 1 Nov. 5, 2018.

Since opting out of recreational marijuana Nov. 12, 2018, the city has worked to solicit community input through a variety of means, including work sessions and a scientific study conducted by Cobalt Community Research, to pinpoint if residents were in favor of decriminalizing marijuana or wished to have establishments in the city.

“I’m not aware of many cities that went through that length of community engagement to really understand what’s best,” Fournier said. “We’ve talked about this at 20 public meetings. We always wanted to start small and be really conservative.”

DuBuc said the city received flak for passing a moratorium days after 70% of Royal Oak voters approved the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, and flak for moving forward with recreational marijuana establishments.

“We had 22,000 for it and 10,000 against. It’s a controversial thing and we’re going to hear about it,” DuBuc said. “I feel like we’re working in good faith to address people’s concerns and trying to use common sense.”

The City Commission held a special meeting July 16 due to the sheer volume of public comments it received on the topic of recreational marijuana at its regular July 13 meeting. Close to 200 people left voice messages, the vast majority against marijuana establishments in the city.

The most common concerns included crime, parking, the safety of children in neighborhoods, traffic, decreased property values and not enough input from those directly impacted. Many threatened to leave the city if the commission moved forward with recreational marijuana establishments.

“I’m absolutely outraged that the city would even consider opening all these marijuana shops with young families. Royal Oak is a family community and this will absolutely devastate my neighborhood,” said Royal Oak resident Maureen Jenkins. “We will never vote again for anybody who votes for this.”

Those in favor of recreational marijuana facilities cited tax revenue, bringing people to the city to patronize other businesses, the work city officials put in so far, and how allowing them would keep Royal Oak progressive and a model for other cities to emulate.

Royal Oak resident Tom Regan said that listening to public comment during the July 13 meeting reminded him of the 1936 anti-marijuana movie “Reefer Madness.”

“There were the same hysterical, half-witted claims about marijuana,” he said. “It wasn’t a bit surprising to hear the thinly veiled racist appeals. … I encourage you to continue the track you’re on and allow for the commercial sale of marijuana in Royal Oak. It’s just way overdue.”

DuBuc said studies do not show such facilities have a negative impact on property values, crime rates or nuisance violations.

For more information, call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000. To view the proposed ordinances, visit and search for “July 16, 2020 CC Special Meeting.”