Trustees mulling where pot shops could be allowed in Lombard

Lombard officials in July signaled an openness to allowing recreational marijuana stores to open in town.

Since then, Village Manager Scott Niehaus said, the village has heard from about five potential operators interested in running such shops under the state's Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

On Thursday, the village board is set to begin considering code changes that could tell marijuana businesses where they'll be able to operate.

On the table is a plan commission recommendation, which would allow recreational dispensaries as permitted uses in commercial areas along Roosevelt Road and in districts designated for offices or industrial use.

The proposal would allow the stores as conditional uses - requiring an application and final village board approval - in commercial districts along Butterfield Road or those designated as neighborhood or community shopping districts. Recreational cannabis dispensaries would be prohibited in the downtown and the downtown perimeter district, as well as in residential areas.

The village would not allow the other types of recreational marijuana businesses licensed under the new state law - cultivation centers, craft growers, or infuser, processing or transporting organizations - to operate within its borders, and would not allow on-site consumption of cannabis at any business.

Niehaus said these plan commission recommendations are more conservative than the initial thoughts of the village board. So board members could decide, for example, to make marijuana stores conditional uses in the downtown or to permit them along Butterfield Road, he said.

Lombard does not propose any restriction on the number of dispensaries it would allow, nor the distance they must be from other types of buildings.

State licensing regulations and preferences of shop operators will serve as "natural restrictors" on the places these businesses could consider, Niehaus said.

The state will issue up to 47 retail dispensary licenses in the Chicago area before May 1, starting with early-approval licenses for which existing medical dispensaries can apply. But the state law says no dispensary can be within 1,500 feet of another medical or recreational shop.

Niehaus said that buffer exists regardless of municipal boundaries. So if a dispensary opens, say, along Roosevelt Road on the western border of Villa Park, he said, there couldn't be another for 1,500 feet - even though that would be well into Lombard.

"I don't think you're going to have that clustering," Niehaus said.

Lombard has been leaning on the expertise of District 5 Village Board member Dan Militello, who works in the cannabis industry, to understand how retail facilities look and operate.

"Our board does have the benefit of a subject-matter expert who actually manages retail medicinal locations," Niehaus said.

Militello plans to abstain from voting on the village's zoning regulations, Niehaus said, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

A vote is not expected during Thursday's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in village hall at 255 E. Wilson Ave. The board plans a first reading of a 12-part text amendment to its zoning code, which could be granted final approval with a vote during a second reading at an upcoming meeting.

The proposed location regulations also would apply to any medical cannabis dispensaries that could come to Lombard, Jennifer Ganser, assistant director of community development, has said. The village would remove all mentions of medical versus recreational in its code to regulate both branches of the industry the same.

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