St. Charles aldermen back zoning for recreational marijuana sales

St. Charles is a step closer to allowing recreational marijuana sales after a proposed zoning change received early support from a majority of aldermen Monday.

In a 6-3 vote, the planning and development committee backed a set of special use regulations that would permit no more than two cannabis retailers in town, one on either side of the Fox River.

The dispensaries would be limited to the regional business and community business zoning districts, and would have to be at least 250 feet from the property lines of schools, day cares and single-family residences, according to a measure that will now go before the city council.

Additionally, one of the shops' operators would be required to have one year of experience running a medical marijuana facility in St. Charles, while the other would need to have operated a medical dispensary within the state for the same amount of time. The provision aims to ensure that the city's existing medical marijuana business, Zen Leaf, would be able to also open a recreational dispensary in the permitted zoning districts, aldermen said.

A new state law legalizing adult marijuana use for Illinois residents ages 21 and older takes effect Jan. 1, prompting debates in St. Charles and many other communities over whether to permit or ban retail operations within their municipal limits.

Some aldermen say they believe allowing recreational dispensaries in town offers a unique economic opportunity for St. Charles. Others are hopeful the proposed zoning amendment will help reduce black-market sales and teenage consumption.

"We have an opportunity to control and regulate something that has been long coming," Alderman Dan Stellato said.

Officials who opposed the measure said they see no sense in rushing a decision, particularly when some details of the law are still up in the air. Citing those uncertainties, as well as resistance from community members, Alderman Maureen Lewis made a motion to ban sales in the city. It was shot down in a 3-6 vote.

"I encourage us as a council to move rather cautiously, rather than jump into this issue, because I believe it will lead to many situations that we haven't thought about yet," Lewis said.

Aldermen Art Lemke and Ron Silkaitis also voted against allowing recreational sales. As committee chairwoman, Alderman Rita Payleitner did not cast a vote but said she would rather let "the dust settle" before making a decision.

St. Charles officials have heard from residents on both sides of the issue the past few months, several of whom addressed aldermen during Monday's meeting. Many expressed concerns over how retail shops would affect the city's image, crime rates and safety. A couple were on the opposite side of the argument, saying it could be a benefit for residents.

Should any unforeseen issues come to light in the future, Alderman Lora Vitek said she would be the first to propose changing the city's ordinance accordingly. In the meantime, she said, she believes the proposed zoning change is a responsible and financially sound policy decision.

The city council is expected to vote on the proposal at an upcoming meeting.

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