POT SHOP PUSH­BACK

Mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary steps from Rush Street would be out of char­ac­ter with neigh­bor­hood, al­der­man, bar own­ers ar­gue

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY TOM SCHUBA, STAFF RE­PORTER tschuba@sun­times.com | @TomSchuba

With city of­fi­cials primed to de­ter­mine whether a pot shop can open in the mid­dle of one of Chicago’s busiest nightlife dis­tricts, a coali­tion of neigh­bors has launched a cam­paign to de­lay a vote Fri­day on the pro­posal and ul­ti­mately keep le­gal weed out of their back­yard.

Given the push­back from neigh­bors and busi­ness lead­ers in the Gold Coast, lo­cal Ald. Brian Hop­kins (2nd) told the Sun-Times on Mon­day that he has al­ready sub­mit­ted a let­ter to the city’s Zon­ing Board of Ap­peals op­pos­ing the recre­ational pot dis­pen­sary that Loop­based Phar­maCann hopes to open.

“The neigh­bor­hood is or­ga­nized [and] ac­tive. Lead­ers have emerged,” Hop­kins said. “It’s about as stirred up as I’ve ever seen it.”

The re­sis­tance comes four months af­ter the Gold Coast Neigh­bors As­so­ci­a­tion came out against Phar­maCann’s lo­ca­tion and an­other pro­posed pot store Cresco Labs is look­ing to open at 21-29 W. Di­vi­sion.

The coali­tion op­pos­ing Phar­maCann’s plan — dubbed Stop Pot at 12-14 W. Maple — has raised a list of con­cerns about that lo­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the likelihood for added con­ges­tion in the area and the pro­posed store func­tion­ing as a cash-only busi­ness, like other weed shops in the state.

The group is also warn­ing of the pro­posed store’s prox­im­ity to Ogden In­ter­na­tional School. While city zon­ing rules pre­vent pot es­tab­lish­ments from open­ing within 500 feet of a school, the coali­tion noted in a state­ment that Phar­maCann’s new lo­ca­tion is less than 550 feet from Ogden.

Hop­kins agrees with op­po­nents that the dis­pen­sary “is not a suit­able use for this com­mu­nity. It is not in con­form­ity with the char­ac­ter of the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity.”

Gib­sons: ‘Res­i­dents don’t like them’

John Col­letti, a mem­ber of the coali­tion and the man­ag­ing part­ner of Gib­sons Restau­rant Group, thinks the ZBA will ul­ti­mately side with his group, though he doesn’t un­der­stand why Phar­maCann sim­ply doesn’t pur­sue a lo­ca­tion that’s less con­tentious.

“Why would Phar­maCann want to come here when the res­i­dents don’t like them?” said Col­letti, whose flag­ship bar and steak­house, plus sis­ter busi­ness Hugo’s Frog Bar, is just steps from Phar­maCann’s planned dis­pen­sary.

Asked why the pres­ence of a pot shop is so alarm­ing in a neigh­bor­hood cel­e­brated for its nightlife and drink­ing cul­ture, Col­letti said he and other pro­pri­etors have spent years man­ag­ing in­tox­i­cated cus­tomers.

“If you look at the street right now as it is, there’s some of the finest restau­rants in the coun­try right here by us who serve prop­erly and watch the cus­tomers, care for the cus­tomers,” said Col­letti, whose restau­rant rou­tinely ranks among the top 10 in sales for in­de­pen­dent restau­rants na­tion­wide.

The coali­tion is urg­ing the ZBA to de­lay Phar­maCann’s vir­tual hear­ing un­til an in­per­son meet­ing can be held, claim­ing the board is “rush­ing” the process.

Phar­maCann spokesman Jeremy Un­ruh said the claim that the process is be­ing rushed “is more of the same smoke-and-mir­ror logic that we’ve seen from this splin­ter group since be­fore the COVID-19 shut­down.”

“The ob­jec­tors have had al­most half a year to pre­pare for the up­com­ing hear­ing, and any sug­ges­tion that the process is un­fair or hasty is mis­placed,” Un­ruh said.

In fact, the race to open recre­ational weed stores in Chicago has been significan­tly de­layed by the COVID-19 pan­demic. Phar­maCann was ini­tially slated to ap­pear be­fore the ZBA in March, but Un­ruh said that hear­ing was pushed back and only resched­uled in re­cent weeks.

‘We are in un­char­tered ter­ri­tory here’

Af­ter Mayor Lori Light­foot barred pot sales in much of the down­town area, cannabis firms be­gan prospect­ing in pricey, re­tail­friendly ar­eas just out­side the so-called “ex­clu­sion zone.” But as com­pa­nies sought to set up shop in hot re­tail cor­ri­dors in the Gold Coast and River North, some faced op­po­si­tion from neigh­bor­hood groups and res­i­dents.

Under the statewide le­gal­iza­tion law, ex­ist­ing op­er­a­tors of med­i­cal dis­pen­saries were given the op­por­tu­nity to sell recre­ational weed at those stores and open ad­di­tional lo­ca­tions to serve ex­clu­sively adult-use cus­tomers. In or­der to earn a state li­cense for those new stores, pot firms must first get lo­cal zon­ing ap­proval.

De­spite push­back from Ald. Bren­dan Reilly (42nd) and the River North Res­i­dents As­so­ci­a­tion, the ZBA granted MOCA Mod­ern Cannabis spe­cial-use zon­ing ap­proval in March for a recre­ational dis­pen­sary at 214232 W. Ohio. The de­ci­sion drew a swift re­buke from Reilly, who tweeted that Light­foot’s ap­pointed zon­ing board “ig­nored over­whelm­ing neigh­bor­hood & al­der­manic op­po­si­tion.”

Ahead of that meet­ing, Hop­kins and Ald. Wal­ter Bur­nett (27th) said that Light­foot’s ef­forts to di­min­ish al­der­manic au­thor­ity have ef­fec­tively left them on the side­lines of the pot zon­ing process. On Mon­day, Hop­kins noted that the rul­ing Fri­day by the ZBA would serve as “a test of the weight of al­der­manic opin­ion on an is­sue like this that al­most used to be ex­clu­sively de­cided based on the pre­vail­ing sup­port or op­po­si­tion of the al­der­man.’’

“We are in un­char­tered ter­ri­tory here,” he said.

GOOGLE

Phar­maCann hopes to open a weed dis­pen­sary at 12-14 W. Maple.

BRIAN RICH/SUN-TIMES

Gib­sons Bar & Steak­house, at 1028 N. Rush St., is part of a coali­tion seek­ing to block a pot shop from open­ing in the Gold Coast.

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