March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Lansing Planning Board’s recommendation to City Council: Don’t adopt the proposed medical marijuana dispensary ordinance as drafted

Thursday, June 23 — The city of Lansing’s Planning Board voted unanimously tonight against the proposed medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.

The citizen advisory board’s vote is a recommendation to the City Council, which will vote on the ordinance Monday night. The board’s recommendation is not binding on the Council.

The Council meeting is the last scheduled before the moratorium on new dispensaries expires on Friday. The moratorium ordinance listed 47 addresses where dispensaries could operate, of which 41 are in business.

The four board members who voted — a fifth, Josh Hovey, recused himself from voting because his employer Truscott Rossman is actively lobbying against the proposed ordinance — also recommend that the Council not grandfather existing dispensaries and place a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed to operate, with Council deciding the number. The board also recommended that the areas of the city where businesses could operate be expanded from what the proposed ordinance calls for.

The proposed ordinance would allow new businesses in F-1 commercial zones, which includes much of Michigan Avenue east of downtown, and industrial zones. The board recommended including F zones, which are common along main corridors like Cedar Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard south of Holmes Road.

Board Chairman John Ruge, whose 1st Ward represents the east side, where many of the dispensaries are, said including another commercial zone would spread businesses out more. “If you’re going to allow it along Michigan Avenue, why not spread (them) into the 2nd and 3rd wards?”

Zoning Administrator Susan Stachowiak said the only difference between the two commercial zone classifications is that buildings must be set back a certain distance from the road in F-zones, while there are no setback requirements for buildings in F-1. Thirty-three addresses in the moratorium ordinance are in commercial zones. Nine of the 12 dispensary addresses on Michigan Avenue are zoned F-1.

As for recommending against grandfathering existing businesses, board member Kathy Tobe, who represents the 3rd Ward on the south side, said she “has an issue with” grandfathering in the 47 addresses because of those that may be “violating the buffering areas” from each other, schools, churches, rehabilitation and child care centers.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, who introduced the proposed ordinance, said at the meeting that a cap was not in place on the number of businesses that could operate because the plan was that buffering requirements — 1,000 feet from schools, churches, rehabilitation centers and child care facilities and 1,000 feet from each other — would “work as a type of cap.”

Ruge said the issue about capping the number of dispensaries should be dealt with “directly” through a specified number, to be determined by Council.

“If you’re trying to limit them, limit them directly rather than a way that nobody knows what is allowed,” he said.

The board also suggested the Council take its time in adopting an ordinance, which was basically a hint to extend the moratorium on new dispensaries which expires July 1. The board did not outright recommend extending the moratorium because City Attorney Brig Smith said that may not be possible at this point.

“The Planning Board ought to consider the substance (of the ordinance) rather than consider the procedure of extending the existing moratorium,” Smith said at the start of the three-hour meeting.

Smith said he is still trying to determine whether Council could legally extend the moratorium by resolution rather than by ordinance, which would require less time on the Council’s part to do.

But if Council fails to adopt a version of the ordinance Monday and can not extend the moratorium, Smith said it will turn into the “wild west” on July 2, the day after the moratorium ends.

“Forty-eight (dispensaries) could turn into 96,” he said.