CITY HALL — A proposed medical-marijuana dispensary that has already gained initial state approval ran into resistance from neighborhood residents Friday before the Zoning Board of Appeals and was denied a special-use permit.
MedMar has already gained initial state approval for a medical-marijuana dispensary at 2843 N. Halsted St., a building formerly occupied by the bar Mix. But residents, led by attorney Tom Moore, argued against approval for a city special-use permit during Friday's hearing.
Moore said the group was not opposed to medical marijuana. "Our only objection is to this location," he said.
"I am all for medical marijuana," said Melissa Dan, principal of nearby St. Clement School. "I am concerned about the location of this business," she added, calling it "inappropriate" and "dangerous" for students walking past it to and from school. That position was echoed by Elias Estrada, principal of Alcott College Prep.
Clare Campbell, who helped organize residents, testified there was "enormous opposition," including Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and several local neighborhood groups.
"Obviously, there's a lot of volatility over this issue," Tunney testified. "There is overwhelming opposition to this." He said he was "on the side of what I think are the majority of the residents."
Residents expressed concern the business would attract crime to the area.
"There has been a rash of armed robberies in the neighborhood," Moore said, adding they would only increase with dispensary clients carrying cash into the business and marijuana away from it.
Halsted Street business owners testified it would be a "detriment" to the area.
Attorneys argued over competing studies on the impact medical-marijuana facilities might have on crime in the surrounding areas.
Yet MedMar attorney Katriina McGuire countered it would actually improve the neighborhood in that the building was "formerly a bar that enjoyed quite a bit of criminal activity." She said neighborhood qualms had nothing to do with the standards for dispensaries set by the state.
Appraiser Joseph Wilcox testified the building was "dilapidated" and an "eyesore," and said the $750,000 proposed rehab would actually improve property values nearby.
Yet opponents presented their own appraiser, Joe Wallace, who insisted it would lower property values. Former Zoning Board of Appeals staffer Tim Burton, now a consultant, added that he felt the business was "incompatible" with the surrounding neighborhood.
"We'd rather have an empty building," said Joe Eskey, who lives across the street.
Security consultant James Smith testified that the business's security plan, including guards, alarms and surveillance cameras, "will become the standard for the State of Illinois."
"In effect, we're adding security to a neighborhood," said McGuire's legal colleague Bernard Citron.
Area resident Rob Svendsen agreed. "The bogeyman is not coming to our neighborhood," he said. "This is a legitimate business."
Medical experts testified it would be a "burden" for chronically ill patients in the area to have to travel farther outside the neighborhood to get legal medical marijuana.
"We'll take this under advisement," said Chairman Jonathan Swain. Yet the board soon voted unanimously to deny the permit.
The board granted a special-use permit for another dispensary proposed by the Cannabis Group at 5001 N. Clark St., as its hearing earlier in the day was more routine. That site was also approved by the state in its initial rulings delivered earlier this month.
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