St. Charles panel recommends allowing recreational pot sales at medical dispensary
A St. Charles advisory panel has narrowly recommended allowing the city's medical marijuana dispensary to also sell recreational cannabis.
Two applications filed by operators of Zen Leaf St. Charles have been heavily debated among plan commission members, neighbors and dispensary representatives for several weeks.
The first is seeking to update the city's zoning code to permit adult-use pot sales in the limited manufacturing district. That would be a necessary step ahead of the business' second request to implement the special use at its existing location, 3714 Illinois Ave.
After three public hearings on the topic, the plan commission voted 5-4 Tuesday to support both proposals. The panel's recommendations now will be considered by the planning and development committee before going to the city council for a final vote.
"We want to be good neighbors," said Anthony Marsico, Zen Leaf's executive vice president of retail. "Us operating without incident is not just to the benefit of the community. It's to the benefit and in line with the reputation of our company."
Zen Leaf was awarded a "same-site" dispensing license last week from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. But the state's authorization is null if the use doesn't comply with local laws.
In October, the city council approved one recreational pot shop on either side of the Fox River. Both must be tied to licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, with one needing at least a year of experience operating in St. Charles.
Though Zen Leaf is the only retailer that would qualify, its shop is outside the zoning districts where aldermen are allowing adult-use sales.
Jeffrey Funke was among the plan commission members who expressed concerns over permitting the retail use in an industrial area, especially with Zen Leaf's anticipated increase of 100 to 450 daily customers. The site has low lighting, limited parking and a configuration not suitable for recreational cannabis sales or the traffic it would generate, he said.
Members James Holderfield, Jennifer Becker and Thomas Pretz also voted against Zen Leaf's proposals, saying a traditional retail setting would be more appropriate for the use.
Similar fears were voiced by the dispensary's neighbors in the St. Charles Commons complex, including association Treasurer Linda Reilly Murphy who owns two units.
"We wish Zen Leaf to be a successful business," she said. "We're just not sure the traffic and amount of people coming in -- especially in the beginning when it's new in Illinois -- can withstand it in our particular area."
Vice Chairman Tim Kessler pointed to several permitted and special uses in the limited manufacturing district that are not industrial in nature, including day care centers, medical or dental offices, vehicle rentals and medical cannabis dispensaries. Recreational pot facilities would be compatible with those types of businesses, he said.
"I don't believe that we're infringing on the use of the zoning district by approving something like this," he said.
The special use was recommended upon a condition that Zen Leaf add exterior signage and security cameras to discourage on-site marijuana consumption. Commission member Peter Vargulich also asked the dispensary to upgrade the parking lot lighting to meet Illuminating Engineering Society standards.
Adding recreational sales is not expected to impact traffic or parking in the area, according to a study completed by Zen Leaf representatives and verified by the city.
"We don't cut corners," Marsico said. "I think we've exhausted resources to go above and beyond to help alleviate some of the concerns."
St. Charles aldermen are expected to discuss Zen Leaf's applications at a Jan. 13 committee meeting.