NORWOOD PARK — As a lengthy hearing at City Hall stretched into the night on the Friday before Christmas, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was certain a proposal to open a medical marijuana dispensary near Superdawg in Norwood Park would be rejected by city officials.
But less than an hour later, all but one of the members of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals agreed to allow Union Group of Illinois to open a dispensary near Devon, Nagle and Milwaukee avenues.
"Everyone was in shock," Napolitano said. "I am furious that it was approved. The hearing was a debacle."
Much of the more than three-hour-long hearing centered on the news that the ownership of the firm had changed hands just hours before city officials considered the proposal to transform a former medical supply company at 6428 N. Milwaukee Ave. into a medical marijuana dispensary.
"They had no structure, no organization," Napolitano said. "Their presentation was whipped together in five minutes before the hearing."
Napolitano said he believed the vote was motivated by the desire of officials loyal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to punish Napolitano for voting against the mayor's budget and a massive property tax increase.
"We knew the chips were stacked against us," Napolitano said. "I believe the message came down, 'Don't help the kid out.' "
Commissioner Sheila O'Grady cast the only vote against the proposal.
While the zoning board — whose members are appointed by the mayor — frequently follows the recommendation of aldermen when deciding whether to approve or reject projects in their ward, it does not always do so. Napolitano urged the board to heed the voices of the "thousands" of ward residents who signed a petition against the dispensary.
Napolitano said he voted against the mayor's budget because it "put too much of the burden" of paying off the city's debt "on the taxpayers and small businesses" of the 41st Ward. He was one of 14 aldermen to reject the $7.8 billion spending plan.
Representatives of the Zoning Board and the mayor's office declined to comment on Napolitano's charges Tuesday.
With the endorsement of the Chicago Republican Party, Napolitano defeated former Ald. Mary O'Connor, one of Emanuel's closest allies, in April.
Napolitano said he was concerned that such a disorganized firm would be operating a medical marijuana dispensary so close to homes.
However, Jay Vincent, a spokesman for Union Group, said the team was "perfectly capable of running this business" appropriately.
Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jonathan Swain criticized Union Group during the hearing, saying 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.
Initially, firm CEO Alex Blyumkin did not plan to testify at the hearing, but did so at the board's request, Vincent said.
Blyumkin is in the process of moving to Chicago from Beverly Hills, California, Vincent said.
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 left the company in November for "personal reasons."
Barno Kadyrov, chief of operations, will be in charge of daily operations at the dispensary, Vincent said.
John Davis, a part owner of Union Group and the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, will spend "all necessary time" in Chicago to educate and train the dispensary's staff, Vicent said.
The dispensary, expected to open this year, plans to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and will 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 in 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.
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