A proposal in front of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission recommends allowing dispensing centers in some business districts and in industrial areas, but was met with mixed reactions.
Naperville and other communities around the area are mulling how to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and dispensing facilities once the drug becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.
Cities are not allowed to prohibit such facilities entirely, but they can impose more stringent zoning regulations than the state. State regulations say there can be no more than one cultivation center in each of the 22 state police districts and they cannot be located within 2,500 feet of a school, day care or residential area. Dispensing centers cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school or day care and also cannot be inside a home. They are limited to 60 statewide.
Naperville's planners have presented a proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission that recommends only allowing cultivation centers in industrial areas and requiring public hearings on specific proposals.
For dispensing centers, the proposal adds a 1,000-foot separation between the facilities and residential areas. But taking a cue from some city councilmen who said they want people to have easy access to the centers just as they do to pharmacies, the proposal would allow them not only in industrial areas, but also certain business districts outside downtown like those along Route 59 and Ogden Avenue. There would be no public hearing required for facilities that request to locate in those areas.
Commissioner Tim Messer called the staff's proposal "very reasonable." However, he asked why dispensing centers would be prohibited from downtown and the reason for the distance requirement between dispensaries and residential areas if the intention was to treat them like pharmacies.
Allison Laff, planning operations manager for the city, said downtown is meant for "retail that encourages other retail." As for residential areas, she said the distance requirement was intended to be a "middle ground approach" and that petitioners still could request a variance to locate closer to those areas.
Commissioners struggled to determine how much traffic the dispensaries would generate and how that should impact where they are allowed.
Commissioner Greg Bruno said he believes there are people with a "true need" for the drug.
"They're going to have to go someplace once every two weeks so if it's in an industrial district that's not a huge burden," he said.
But he also said pharmacies would be an ideal location to dispense the marijuana. Laff said existing pharmacies would likely have a hard time meeting all of the state requirements for dispersing medical marijuana.
Commissioner Tom Dabareiner said dispensing facilities should not be allowed in business districts.
"The state recognized this is a special circumstance, a unique product, and acknowledges that there are medical uses here, but it comes with lot of strings, a lot more regulations than a pharmacy," he said.
Commissioner Robert Williams said the city should be "as conservative as we possibly can be."
"It's going to be abused and criminalized big time," he said.
Several of the commissioners said each dispensing facility should go through the public hearing process before being allowed to open.
That way "somebody didn't wake up and find out there was one of these by them and didn't have a chance to object," Commissioner Kevin Coyne said.
The commission will continue to discuss the proposal before sending a recommendation to City Council, which will have the final say.