Crowds at St. Charles marijuana dispensary 'creating nightmares' for neighbor
As the clock ticks closer to 4 p.m., Aamir Bandukda knows it's time to shut down for the day.
It's not that he's trying to get home early. He's just hoping to avoid the growing crowds near his unit at the St. Charles Commons office complex.
Bandukda, who is in real estate, says it's worse in the late afternoon when his neighbor at the complex -- the Zen Leaf marijuana dispensary -- begins its daily window for recreational sales. With the entrance to his unit only 4 feet from Zen Leaf's, Bandukda can't avoid a traffic jam.
"The amount of foot traffic that's coming in, it's not suitable for an industrial warehouse office building," said Bandukda, whose entrance shares a walkway with Zen Leaf. "It's creating nightmares."
"If I went to St. Charles and said I wanted to open a 7-Eleven here, they would never allow it," he said. "So why do they allow it for a dispensary?"
For months, the St. Charles city council debated Zen Leaf's request for a zoning exemption to expand its medical marijuana business to include recreational sales. Tenants of the 10-unit complex spoke out against the zoning allowance at city meetings.
The approval came in a 6-4 city council vote in May, after Zen Leaf agreed to stipulations including a sundown provision where after 18 months the business will either move within a proper zoning area or cease operations. Zen Leaf requires permission from the state to change the location on its license.
Zen Leaf representatives did not respond to requests for comment, but St. Charles officials say the company has been a cooperative business partner since it opened in 2015. That includes during the last four months since the dispensary was approved for recreational sales.
"We've been in constant contact with Zen Leaf, and I'm aware of the complaints," said St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan. "We've been doing our best to police the crowd in terms of the COVID concerns with masks and that kind of thing. From an unruly perspective or a crime perspective, we've not had an uptick whatsoever in police activity."
When Bandukda closed on the purchase of a unit in the complex in June, he didn't anticipate the impact Zen Leaf's dispensary would have on his ability to rent the unit. But when potential renters stop by, he said many don't even make it to the door because of the number of marijuana customers lined up outside.
The crowds lead to other problems as well, he said. Finding parking spots can be an issue, and an armed guard standing outside the dispensary isn't exactly a welcoming presence, Bandukda said.
During a recent Cannabis Cup promotion event, Bandukda said customers lined up around the building in the early-morning hours waiting for samples. Some sat in lawn chairs until the dispensary opened.
St. Charles Alderman Ron Silkaitis, whose ward includes the property, said he voted against the expansion to recreational sales because he didn't like the idea of changing the zoning. He also said, however, he's received no complaints about Zen Leaf since the addition of recreational sales.
"Before when they were trying to change zoning, I did get emails from some of the owners there, but I haven't heard anything since," Silkaitis said. "I've driven by there and haven't seen any issues."
Keegan said his officers regularly patrol the area and Zen Leaf has been responsive to requests regarding crowd sizes and social distancing. Once COVID-19 restrictions fade, Keegan said some of the crowd issues might fade as well.
For Bandukda, though, it could be a long 18 months.
"Anyone wanting to rent this space, they'd have to wonder if visitors would be able to get to the door," he said. "No one objects to their business. It's just that they're not being good neighbors."