Dec. 12 2018 11:55 AM

Proposed zoning amendment would allow up to six pot shops


WEDNESDAY, DEC. 12 — The medical marijuana industry could soon roll into Meridian Township.


Local officials unanimously voted to push forward a zoning amendment to the township’s planning commission. Tuesday’s 6-0 township board vote initiated the beginning stages of a zoning amendment that would establish six, designated overlay districts where commercial medical marijuana facilities could eventually locate.


The maneuver arrived more than a decade since voters opted to legalize cannabis statewide for medical use. And after more than two years of discussion, Township Supervisor Ronald Styka said something had to budge.


“It’s a very compromised ordinance, and I’m all about trying to get things done that are appropriate for our citizens,” Styka said. “Thousands of our citizens need and use medical marijuana. They deserve to have that available to them in our township, no matter what other feelings people may have about medical marijuana.”


Officials for months have drafted and redrafted an ordinance that could eventually allow for a limited number of growing operations, dispensaries, secure transporters, processors and safety compliance facilities. Disputes over the specific number that should be allowed within the community, at times, bogged down a final consensus.


Yesterday’s compromise — assuming the township’s planning commission doesn’t continue to tweak the amendment — could allow each of the six districts to play host to one of each type of medical marijuana facility. Due to space constraints, however, officials said it’s unlikely the township would flood itself with 30 facilities.


The overlay districts are scattered across the township:


1.) At the north end of the township, north of Towner Road and southeast of Saginaw Highway.

2.) At the southeast corner of Haslett and Okemos roads.

3.) On the west side, south of Grand River Avenue and north of the Red Cedar River.

4.) Across Marsh Road from the Meridian Mall and north of Grand River Avenue.

5.) Along Hagadorn Road near Mt. Hope Road, south of the railroad tracks.

6.) North of Jolly Road near the intersection at Okemos Road.


Most of the overlay districts won’t have room to accommodate all six types of facilities, or perhaps even a single dispensary, officials emphasized. They’ll also need to keep a set distance from schools, churches, libraries, child care facilities and residential neighborhoods, posing another obstacle to otherwise rapid market expansion.


Clerk Brett Dreyfus suggested the districts represent a form of “exclusionary zoning” to trim down the market. He initially advocated for additional space for more shops, but after realizing the immediate financial incentives — namely $5,000 application fees paid to the township — he decided to land on a middle ground for patient access.


“It also appears very few citizens have spoken out in opposition to this,” Dreyfus added.


Mark Kieselbach, township director of community planning and development, said the board had initially leaned toward opting out of the market altogether. Its latest “good faith effort” was designed to showcase the township’s ability to reconsider the issue and open the door to a potentially lucrative industry, he said.


“If this ordinance gets adopted, I think we’re going to have to wait and see,” Kieselbach added. “I’ve heard from some business owners that are concerned about these facilities being in the overlay districts. They’re not interested in having medical marijuana near their businesses. I hope it turns out well but we’ll have to see.”


Kieselbach said two of the overlay districts lack industrial-zoned properties. That means growing facilities and processors — without an eventual zoning change — wouldn’t be able to set up shop in every zone regardless. Dispensaries, instead, will likely comprise the bulk of any eventual applicant pools, he suggested.


“I think we’d be lucky to have a secure transporter or safety compliance facility move into the township,” he said.


The proposed zoning amendment still needs to move through the township planning commission for review before it moves back to the township board for final approval. And the details regarding the local licensing process, a requirement to eventual business operations, still need to be finalized before applications can arrive.


Would-be medical marijuana shops will also need permits from Kieselbach and a special land use permit from the planning commission before they can set up shop. To avoid lawsuits from a overly discretionary selection process, Kieselbach said the township also plans to draw its applicants from a random lottery.


Gradually increasing fines for violating rules and regulations would also ensure entrepreneurs keep their businesses in line. A few concerns were raised over lingering odors from would-be pot shops, but Dreyfus also emphasized that applicants are strongly incentivized to cure those concerns or risk never receiving a state license.


And excess revenues from the application fees could also be diverted to road maintenance and other programs across the township, Dreyfus noted. The potential economic impact was worth the township’s pursuit, he said.


“There was a divergence of views on this issue,” Dreyfus said. “It’s an issue that can be controversial and have emotions attached to it. I think the board did a very good job, taking different viewpoints and consolidating them into something that made sense, passed muster and could get something started in the community.”


The potential zoning shift has no impact on the eventual ability for newly legalized recreational dispensaries to set up shop within Meridian Township. That bridge will likely need to be crossed next year, officials emphasized. Under state law, local municipalities will still be able to opt out of retail sales of recreational marijuana.


The township planning commission will need to review and set a public hearing on the proposed changes before sending it back to the township board for final passage. Officials said the topic will likely be addressed at a meeting in late January or early February.


Visit lansingcitypulse.com for more coverage as the proposed changes head to the township’s planning commission.