Vote on whether to allow more marijuana shops in Rolling Meadows could be close

Rolling Meadows aldermen will decide next week whether additional recreational marijuana dispensaries should be allowed in town, and the vote could be close.

The city council is considering changing zoning rules that would allow the pot shops in commercially zoned areas east of New Wilke Road. Each proposed dispensary would have to come before the planning and zoning commission for a public hearing, and then the city council could approve or deny a special use permit.

The proposed change comes as city officials have received more and more requests in recent months from prospective operators who want to open along the busy commercial corridors of Algonquin and Golf roads.

Currently, there's only one dispensary in Rolling Meadows: Nature's Care, 975 Rohlwing Road. It's on the other side of town in an area zoned for manufacturing.

Aldermen first discussed the issue during an informal committee-level discussion Jan. 18, when most showed an openness to expanding the boundaries of where stores could go. The advisory planning and zoning panel then unanimously recommended the changes to the city code on Feb. 1.

But in the weeks following, some aldermen changed their minds after their phones and emails were flooded with comments from residents opposed to additional marijuana shops. Some residents cited a controversial flyer that had been distributed to homes by an unknown anti-drug group.

In an early first reading tally Feb. 22, the council voted 4-3 for the ordinance that would allow and regulate more dispensaries. But it's not a done deal, with the final second reading vote scheduled for March 8.

One alderman, Jon Bisesi, indicated he could change his “yes” vote if he receives additional comments from residents in his ward. Unlike most of the council, he said he only got three emails and one phone call on the matter.

“In my book, (if) nobody calls, that's acceptance,” Bisesi said.

But other aldermen, like Kevin O'Brien and Jenifer Vinezeano, reported getting dozens of calls and emails — at least a 2-to-1 ratio of people opposed to those in favor.

And whatever their personal views might be, both cast their first reading votes with what the majority of their constituents said.

“Their opinion — whether it swayed from a flyer or not — is not for me to question,” Vinezeano said. “I'm just their voice in putting forth their opinion and how they would like our community to be.”

Vinezeano and O'Brien joined Nick Budmats, whose ward includes Nature's Care, in voting “no.” He similarly cited the views of local residents when he was the lone vote in 2020 against a cannabis craft grower, processing and infusing facility that never came to fruition.

But Mandy Reyez, whose ward includes the south side Algonquin/Golf/New Wilke commercial area, said additional dispensaries are “an opportunity Rolling Meadows cannot pass up,” citing the demand from a large customer base with disposable income that could also help drive traffic to existing businesses.

Though he doesn't get a vote, Mayor Joe Gallo is in favor of the zoning rule changes. He blasted the flyer as “propaganda,” and used his mayor's report during the last council meeting to refute it.

“These assertions that we start seeing that are being fed to residents are misguiding and causing friction, based on the conversation, the tone, the tenor and the level of civility in the conversations that I had with residents,” Gallo said.

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