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Royal Oak Planning Commission recommends marijuana facilities in 2 zones

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published December 4, 2019

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ROYAL OAK — On Nov. 12, the Royal Oak Planning Commission voted to send a recommendation to the Royal Oak City Commission to allow marijuana facilities for medical and recreational purposes in two zones: general industrial and general business.

City Planner Doug Hedges said that under the proposed zoning ordinance, such facilities would 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.

The actual number would depend on the location of approved operators.

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

Designated consumption establishments and excess marijuana growers would be prohibited in all zoning districts, as well as drive-thru lanes and walk-up windows. Temporary marijuana events also would be prohibited in all zoning districts, unless granted special approval by the City Commission.

Hedges said the ordinance language was driven by input from a scientific survey conducted by Cobalt Community Research, which showed that the majority of residents do not support marijuana facilities in the city’s downtown.

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

The city adopted an ordinance to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana facilities in the city, with a sunset provision of July 1, 2020, to determine the best course of action. On July 3, the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued a set of emergency rules that allowed the state to begin accepting business applications Nov. 1.

Mayor Michael Fournier said the city must also adopt a local licensing ordinance for marijuana uses, and the goal is for both the zoning ordinance and the licensing ordinance to come before the City Commission at the same time. The city is aiming to do so in February.

“Unlike liquor licenses, this is something where you’re probably going to get multiple applicants all at the same time,” Fournier said. “This zoning is all about land use, but in licensing, we’ll determine how to conduct (marijuana operations).”

Planning Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas said the city has not specifically outlined how it will determine which marijuana operators will be approved, but that it will not be based on merit.

“We’re not picking winners and losers,” Douglas said. “People will have to do a licensing requirement.”

Retailers, micro businesses and provisioning centers would be allowed as special land uses in both the general business and general industrial zoning districts. Growers, processors, compliance facilities and transporters would be allowed as special land uses only in the general industrial zoning district.

No marijuana uses would be allowed in other commercial zoning districts, including neighborhood business, central business district, regional business, mixed use 1 and mixed use 2.

Hedges said special land use permits for all marijuana uses would be subject to final approval by the City Commission upon recommendation from the Planning Commission, and site plan approval would expire after one year. All applications for local licensure would also need to include proof of state licensure.

During a public hearing held Nov. 12, Jenn Zielinski, of Dunaskiss Consulting and Development, said her group has been working on governmental cannabis policy for the last five or six years.

“Some of these facilities on the retail side can see anywhere from 100 to 200 customers per day and, typically, these customers are commuting individually,” Zielinski said. “Traffic counts and ease of access in and out of the facility is something that you want to consider.”

Scott Roberts, a Royal Oak resident and cannabis business attorney, said he would like to see Royal Oak create overlay districts to revitalize and repurpose underutilized and vacant areas, as well as increase setbacks from 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet.

“Currently, we’re basically turning Woodward into Eight Mile,” Roberts said. “I think that potentially weakens what is one of the city’s strongest corridors, which I don’t think really makes sense.”

Fournier said the proposed zoning ordinance is a baseline, and the city can either kick it back to the Planning Commission for more tweaking or fine-tune it as required down the road.

“I look forward to the licensing and the other aspects that round out other concerns, but going forward, I’m pretty comfortable with most of what’s in here,” Planning Commissioner Ann Bueche said. “This is not the last review.”

Vice Chair Dan Godack and Planning Commissioner Gary Quesada cast the two dissenting votes against the zoning ordinance.

“From what I heard here tonight, it has given me some reason to do more study,” Quesada said. “I’m not feeling really comfortable with what I’m voting on.”

Although he supported the motion, Godack said he voted “no” because he wanted city staff to have one more go at amending the language before sending it on to the City Commission.