Planning commission advocates for recreational marijuana

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, March 13, 2019

NILES — During a committee of the whole meeting Monday night, the Niles Planning Commission recommended that the city opt into recreational marijuana.

Sanya Vitale, the community development director, presented the commission’s recommendation and proposed guidelines for a zoning ordinance.

Vitale said the planning commission sees recreational marijuana as an opportunity for economic growth and development in Niles.

“Over the last year, I have been getting between five and 20 calls a day from people who want to bring their marijuana company to the city of Niles,” Vitale said. “Really, there has not been an opportunity for the city of Niles to groom other types of industrial partners. The auto industry is not coming here beating down the doors. The tech industry is not coming knocking on the doors — the marijuana people are.”

Some of that interest was made apparent Monday night when seven marijuana business owners interested in setting up shop in Niles spoke during the public comments section of the city council meeting.

Zoning recommendations for recreational marijuana would be similar to medical marijuana, with business largely being permitted in the Industrial Park area and commercial district along S. 11th St. Additionally, Vitale said the commission wished to recommend the following:

• The addition of a secure transport facility and laboratory on S. 11th Street

• The addition of four microbusinesses, which is a “mom-and-pop-style” business that sells marijuana-infused products

• The allowance of outdoor events in Riverfront Park, between Broadway and Bond streets, that include marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia

• Business signage that would include a green cross for medical marijuana and an asterisk for recreational marijuana

• The addition of two more buildings for marijuana operation of any type to the Industrial Park area

City council members shared some conflicting views on how they felt about the recommendations.

City council member Daniel VandenHeede said it seemed unreasonable to have an unlimited number of growers and processors permitted.

“I’m concerned,” he said. “I would like to see some kind of limit here because what our communities have experienced is that people will have speculation. They are going to buy buildings … and then a lot of them aren’t going to happen.”

Vitale noted that the amount of business is restricted, however, by the finite number of parcels available for prospective marijuana business owners.

City council member John DiCostanzo argued that allowing more business creates healthy competition.

“I don’t think we are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Look at the enthusiasm we had from these business owners who came here wanting to invest their money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little real estate speculation in the city. We have had a lot of depressed real estate values in the city reducing our city revenues from taxation.”

Mayor Nick Shelton said he felt the planning commission had made a thorough review to create the recommendation.

“I think we are taking a very measured approach,” Shelton said. “I commend the planning commission, Sanya, for what you have done to recommend this and put this together for our council.”

During the next city council meeting on March 25, Vitale said she would be making a recommendation for the two additional provisioning centers.

City administrator Ric Huff said until the state releases laws for recreational marijuana, he does not expect city council members to vote on the issue.