The city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-1 to approve the proposal from Union Group of Illinois to open a dispensary at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Commissioner Sheila O'Grady cast the only vote against the proposal.
Much of the more than three-hour long hearing centered on the news that the ownership of the firm had changed hands Friday afternoon, just hours before city officials considered the proposal. Joseph Gattuso, the firm's attorney told city officials that Interim CEO Barno Kadyrov was not prepared to testify at the hearing.
Board chairman Jonathan Swain said firm leaders should have been able to answer questions about the day-to-day operations of the dispensary, including the identity of staff members assigned to consult with the dispensary's patients on a regular basis.
During several community meetings held during the spring, Union Group officials said the dispensary would be run by Maria Kunz, who owns a home health care business in Skokie. However, Kunz told the board Friday that she left the company for "personal reasons" Nov. 25 but declined to elaborate on her reasons.
Alex Blyumkin, the firm's executive vice president, now owns 70 percent of the firm, officials told the board.
The proposal was approved despite Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) urging the zoning board to reject the application. While the zoning board frequently follows the recommendation of aldermen when deciding whether to approve or reject projects in their ward, it does not always do so.
Several Norwood Park residents testified against the proposed dispensary, saying it was too close to Caldwell Woods, where educational programs take place.
However, representatives of the firm said the dispensary would not have a negative effect on the surrounding area. The location met all of the legal requirements imposed by the state and city, firm officials said. Dispensaries must be a minimum distance from schools and day care centers.
Napolitano said an "overwhelming" number of residents of the 41st Ward have told him that the location near Devon, Nagle and Milwaukee avenues is a bad fit for a dispensary and would make the already congested intersection worse, attract criminals to the area and lower the value of their homes.
The dispensary would have a "potentially adverse effect on students and children," Napolitano said, and would be targeted by criminals.
Napolitano said he did not oppose medical marijuana itself.
"That's not the point," Napolitano said. "It's the location and how the location affects people."
Elsewhere on the Northwest Side, Curative Health has the approval of both the state and city to open a dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Jefferson Park, but has yet to begin remodeling the storefront.
The owners of Superdawg have welcomed the potential new neighbor, saying they support any business that would bring more people to the area.
John Davis, one of three partners in Union Group of Illinois, told the board the dispensary would be a "good neighbor and a revenue generator" if approved by city officials.
The dispensary plans to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and be patrolled around the clock by armed guards using a state-of-the-art camera system, officials said.
In addition to adding 21 parking spaces, Union Group plans to build a secure garage to allow marijuana to be delivered to the facility and cash removed. Otherwise, the 21,500-square-foot building — a former medical supply store — would remain unchanged, officials said.
Only members of the dispensary allowed by the state to use medical marijuana for a host of illnesses such as cancer and glaucoma would be allowed inside the facility after showing two forms of identification, officials said. Marijuana would not be permitted to be consumed at the facility or nearby, according to state law.
The dispensary would employ 10 people, and Union Group said it would donate 4 percent of its profits to "local charities and civic groups." The dispensary is expected to bring in $1.6 million in profit in its first year, which would mean $64,000 for local groups, company officials said.
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