Utica revises marijuana ordinance to allow 2 new establishments

By: David Wallace | Shelby-Utica News | Published April 15, 2024

 The Utica City Council approved a revision to its marijuana ordinance March 12.

The Utica City Council approved a revision to its marijuana ordinance March 12.

Photo by Kara Szymanski


UTICA — The Utica City Council reviewed the marijuana business ordinance that it had approved at its Feb. 13 City Council meeting and determined March 12 that some changes needed to be made in order to be fair, competitive and transparent.

The revised ordinance, passed 5-1 March 12, changed the action taken in February of allowing one new marijuana business on Park Avenue in the city’s hotel district to instead allow for two on Park Avenue.

“We approved an additional location in the hotel district at the last council meeting (Feb. 13),” Mayor Gus Calandrino said. “After legal review with the city attorney, she recommended some changes. It’s also our obligation to make this a fair, open and competitive process. We didn’t really think that was possible with one location being in the mix alone, so this amendment adds one location.”

After revising the action taken in February, the City Council voted unanimously for two related items. It voted to hire a new planner, Steve Cassin, specifically to review the city’s zoning ordinances as they relate to the marijuana ordinance. The marijuana license application fees will pay for his services, according to the agenda packet information. The city also voted to establish a scoring and ranking process for marijuana business licenses. The scoring system has a potential of 110 points and emphasizes filling vacant properties and improving them.

“I feel that this is a long way towards improving it, making it open and making it competitive,” Calandrino said of the scoring system’s potential effect on the licensing process.

“I believe that you did a wonderful job with the ordinance,” Royal Oak attorney Michael Stein said during the meeting’s time for public comment. He represents a potential license applicant.

During the public comment time that began the meeting, many residents said there were already two marijuana centers in Utica and that is enough, while some said it could help bring in money, fill vacancies and bring traffic to existing businesses.

Justin Gretch, who lives in Utica, practices law and previously served on the Rochester Planning Commission for seven years, said he felt that this had been “a not-so-fair and not-so-transparent process.”

“I’m worried about No. 1, the city’s interests, and No. 2, other businesses that want to do business in the city, their interests.”

Janet Lemerise, who has lived in Utica since 1977, said the city doesn’t need more marijuana stores to improve the tax base.

“I am actually quite disappointed in the council for not representing the residents. That’s what you’re here for. We keep hearing about the interest of the city. Well, who is the city if not the residents? I am very opposed to this, and we already deal with a massive headache of traffic,” she said.

Councilman Thom Dionne sought to delay a vote on the ordinance revision to give more time for review. When it came time to vote for a motion that he had made with that goal in mind, the council deadlocked 3-3, which meant the motion failed. Councilwoman Faith Terenzi was not at the meeting.

“I’m not opposed to having marijuana stores. I just want to make sure that the process is beyond reproach. That’s why I felt like maybe it was necessary to take a second look,” Dionne said.

The council then took up the motion to allow for two new establishments on Park Avenue. It passed 5-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Kenneth Sikora voting no.

“I want business to thrive. I just don’t see this as our answer to the situation,” Sikora said.

“We live in a capitalistic society, free enterprise. We can’t have just one. That’s just not how it works,” Councilman Brad O’Donnell said in voting for the revision.

Stein had urged the council not to tinker with the ordinance revision, which he felt had addressed all issues.

“I believe that there’s a market to be served by the addition of two additional adult-use dispensaries,” Stein said.

For more information, call the city at (586) 739-1600.

Staff Writer Kara Szymanski contributed to this story.