CITY HALL — A proposed Rogers Park medical marijuana dispensary faced heightened scrutiny over its location near Warren Park in a hearing Friday with the Zoning Board of Appeals before gaining tentative approval.
Bob Kingsley, chief executive officer of 420 Capital Management, testified that the building he proposes for the Green Gate Compassion Center, at 6501 N. Western Ave., is like "a fortress," perfect for a dispensary he intended to make "the finest in Illinois" and "a tremendous asset to the community."
Yet a handful of local families testified against the dispensary, on the grounds that it would be within 1,000 feet of Warren Park — even though the state statute that established the medical-marijuana pilot program set that restriction for schools and day-care centers, not parks.
Helen Murtaugh, a 50th Ward resident, said customers buying medical marijuana at the location would be "sitting ducks for predators" upon leaving, and that the site near Warren Park violated "the intent if not the letter" of the law to keep dispensaries away from children.
Yet local resident Annie Sindelar, who like some of the opponents brought her children to the hearing, testified that she considered them safe with the addition of the dispensary, and that it might actually encourage police to crack down on the smoking that already goes on in the park.
Local resident Bruce Mosbacher pointed out there's a gas station at the north end of the park that sells alcohol, and he called that far more problematic.
Kingsley made it clear the state statute makes it illegal to smoke medical marijuana anywhere but in private, and that the dispensary would have tight security.
"There's no evidence of any impact here," said Kingsley's attorney Thomas Moore. "There are fears."
Board Chairman Jonathan Swain at first seemed receptive to the argument the dispensary might have an effect on children in the park, but then seemed swayed by counter arguments. Swain estimated that about three dozen people attending the hearing supported the dispensary, with only a handful opposed.
In the end, Swain and Sam Toia voted in favor, with only Sol Flores opposed. They constituted a quorum but not a majority of the five-member board, and Swain said the matter would formally be held until a fourth member can review the hearing transcript and information and cast a deciding vote.
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) acknowledged the proposal was "somewhat controversial," with constituents "equally divided" and "with very strong opinions on both sides."
While Silverstein has previously opposed the dispensary, she took no position before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Kingsley cited how his dispensary has already earned state approval to supply Rogers Park Township.
"Clearly, we're gonna bring jobs to the community," he said, adding that he would try to hire residents from the 49th and 50th wards, as well as veterans and the disabled.
Kingsley estimated it would open Dec. 15 with prompt zoning approval.
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