We thank Wednesday Journal for its Nov. 27 editorial [Limiting pot sales, Our Views, Viewpoints] supporting special-use zoning for recreational cannabis stores. Our district really is at a tipping point. We’re closer to revitalization than we’ve been in decades, with many new multifamily units under construction. But we’re also in danger of looking like a vice district, with an existing gambling venue, head shop, questionable massage and tattoo parlors, etc. We need local scrutiny to stop the kind of cannabis stores that would have a negative impact and approve those that would be an asset.
This also applies to Oak Park in general. Per your editorial, selling recreational marijuana is not like selling socks. It’s an intoxicant and should be regulated, like liquor. But unlike alcohol, licensing is the state’s responsibility. Special-use zoning is therefore the only way to exercise local scrutiny. No matter how strict the state’s criteria may look, we don’t know how stringently they will be applied. Nor is the state in a good position to evaluate specific store plans in terms of local considerations. The need for local scrutiny in such a new situation is undoubtedly why nearly all the communities near Oak Park have chosen special-use zoning. (The only two exceptions have restricted pot store locations to just a block or two.)
We agree that clear general rules should be established, including minimum distance from locations serving children and between cannabis stores. But as is true with taverns, we also think each store should be evaluated individually for such things as ingress/egress/impact on traffic, parking, signage, appearance, and safety provisions. Clear rules for these evaluations will help streamline the special-use process.
We thank the village board for passing a moratorium providing time to consider them. Meanwhile, Oak Parkers eager to buy legal recreational cannabis will find it at Seven Point on Lake Street early in 2020.
Brian Bobek’s Dec. 11 letter [Pot sales and zoning issues, Viewpoints] argues against special-use zoning. For reasons stated, he’s mistaken that setback rules are all Oak Park needs. His asserted status as a community member wishing to do right by Oak Park suggests that multistate companies are not similarly motivated — all the more reason for local scrutiny. And would special-use zoning really put his boutique dispensary at a competitive disadvantage? A preference for local companies could be part of the process. And if Providence Dispensaries can meet the state’s exacting capitalization requirements, it can weather the special-use process, particularly if rules are detailed and clear enough to enable a streamlined evaluation.
Oak Park’s cannabis store permit moratorium was intended precisely to give notice of possible zoning status or ordinance changes to organizations like Mr. Bobek’s. He can look for towns where recreational cannabis will be a permitted use in all commercial areas, but he’ll be hard-pressed to find one anywhere near Oak Park. And competition from larger companies will be a fact of life, whether Providence Dispensaries opens here or elsewhere.
Founded in 2013, North Avenue District Inc. is a 501c3 charitable organization working to revitalize North Avenue from Austin to Harlem.