The village of Oak Park’s plan commission voted a second time Jan. 16 to recommend the village board require special use zoning for recreational cannabis retailers. The plan commission’s original special use recommendation was rejected by the village board Sept. 16. The village board voted then to make it permitted use.
Last December, the village board asked the plan commission to make further recommendations related to the governing of recreational cannabis and placed a temporary moratorium on the opening of new dispensaries.
At the Jan. 16 plan commission meeting, Village Planner Craig Failor made a recommendation on behalf of village staff to prohibit cannabis consumption lounges.
“We are strongly recommending there be no on-site consumption lounges within any recreational or medical dispensary or stand-alone type of use or tobaccos store,” Failor said.
Many community members, including several North Avenue businessowners, expressed support for making cannabis dispensaries special use in the village zoning code.
“It’s ironic that daycare centers and preschools are special uses in Oak Park, even though we are already licensed by the state,” said Dailela Williams. “Oak Park uses the special use process to ensure the safety and welfare of our children. Shouldn’t recreational cannabis sales, also licensed by the state, be subject to the same scrutiny by the village?”
Williams is the director of Future Leaders Inc., a North Avenue daycare center. Future Leaders, Williams noted in her testimony, is less than a block away from a “prime site” for a dispensary – the vacant grocery store located on the corner of North Avenue and Harvey Avenue. She also noted that a different daycare center sits across the street from Future Leaders.
Julianne Nery, president of Wonder Works Children’s Museum, 6445 W. North Ave., also made a plea for a united approach to cannabis zoning.
“We hope we can come together, not just as businesses that support children,” Nery said, “but as a consortium of businesses, neighborhood groups and village leadership and be guided by the same philosophies on how to best integrate cannabis sales thoughtfully into our community on a case-by-case basis through special use zoning.”
North Avenue District Chair Judith Alexander supported a rule that dispensaries have a minimum of 500 feet from sensitive uses, such as daycare centers. Alexander also asked that the 500 feet be measured from the Chicago side as well.
Alexander also agreed with staff’s recommendation to prohibit on-site consumption lounges, “especially because North Avenue is a four-lane state highway with a [drunken driving] problem.”
She called on the commission to recommend “the kind of common-sense regulations that would prohibit problematic dispensaries and approve ones that would be an asset.”
“It’s so much easier and more effective to prevent a problem business than to close one after the fact,” Alexander concluded.
Oak Park Township Trustee Eric Davis came to the meeting and read a statement he first gave Dec. 2 to the village board, on behalf of the township, urging the village to reconsider special use zoning.
“The special-use process is needed to evaluate safety, localized impacts and other potential considerations for each proposed store,” Davis said.
He said that since the initial village board cannabis zoning vote, the city of Chicago voted to make cannabis special use.
“They will be a special use in River Forest, if permitted at all,” Davis added. “It is our understanding that Forest Park will allow [dispensaries] only in a small area of Roosevelt Road.”
After some deliberation by the commission over the details of special use, the commission voted unanimously on a motion to recommend that “recreational cannabis should be special use.”
The commission concurred that facilities should be 15 feet away from existing dispensaries and 500 feet away from sensitive areas, including parks.
The motion also included a recommendation for a limit of three dispensaries in Oak Park. The same conditions, the commission agreed, should apply to craft cannabis growers as well.