TRAVERSE CITY — New rules for recreational marijuana entrepreneurs looking to open in Traverse City are moving forward — but aren’t done yet.
City commissioners on Monday will discuss a set of zoning regulations that planning commissioners recently unanimously recommended. The rules lay out where different business types like retailers, transporters and testers could operate. Included among them are limits to how many can locate within the downtown that put several stretches of Front Street off-limits.
Planning commissioners agreed with the city Downtown Development Authority’s request to limit recreational marijuana retailers to two, require them to be at least 1,500 feet apart and keep them out of C-4B Regional Center zoning.
That puts all of Front Street between Union and Park streets out of bounds, plus the street’s south side between Park and Wellington streets, and north side between Union Street and the Boardman River, zoning maps show.
City commissioners Christie Minervini and Tim Werner both said the limitations make sense to them. Minervini cited ongoing efforts to change the downtown’s image as a recreational party zone, and Werner said marijuana retailers could have the cash flow to outcompete anyone else for a slice of the downtown’s retail space.
Werner does believe recreational cannabis sales have a place downtown, probably more so than medical dispensaries, which would still be disallowed. Medical sales are more akin to pharmacies.
“I’m not a proponent of marijuana, but I see the argument that, well, if it’s recreational visitors to Traverse City, why shouldn’t they be able to walk down Front Street, pop into a store and buy some? Because they’re on vacation, and if you’re ever going to consume recreational marijuana, isn’t vacation one of the best times to do it?”
Those two downtown retailers could be out of six total within the city, according to draft regulations. The city would limit microbusinesses, which can grow up to 150 plants, then process and sell the harvest, to two. No on-site consumption businesses, excess marijuana growers or temporary marijuana events would be allowed, although event planners would be.
Growers, processors and safety compliance facilities wouldn’t be limited, according to draft rules.
Zoning would lay out where these different business types can operate — retailers would also be allowed in Industrial, C-2 Neighborhood Center, C-3 Community Center and Hotel Resort-zoned land, draft rules show.
State law mandates a merit-based system for issuing recreational cannabis retail licenses, and city commissioners will discuss a proposed scoring rubric for the city’s own process.
Minervini said she’s against giving an advantage to current medical marijuana retailers because they won their first license by luck through a lottery. She agreed that those who got the license, then opened a business, have demonstrated their ability to follow through.
“Yes, I agree that the folks who are up and running have shown that they’ve got what it takes, and they’re well-funded and in a good position to get a recreational permit, but I feel like, all things being equal, we should be looking at these applicants on the other 70 available points in that matrix,” she said.
Other factors that would favor applicants look good to Minervini, she said, like those that would require a $15-an-hour minimum wage for store employees, and a higher score to those that offer health insurance to workers.
Werner said he likes the idea of incentivizing redevelopment of vacant or long-abandoned properties, plus a category that would give points for using land to the “maximum extent allowed by zoning,” as the rubric puts it.
Marijuana regulations are just one weighty subject on Monday’s agenda. Commissioners will also discuss the possibility of leasing the Traverse City Senior Center to Grand Traverse County. The city owns the building and the county runs the services inside as one of a network of senior centers, but the county needs some kind of property interest to invest millage funds there, according to a memo from city Manager Marty Colburn.
It’s part of a plan to rebuild the small, aging building fashioned out of an old pavilion into a two-story center complete with classrooms, a dining area, activity spaces and more, as previously reported. The county wants to ask voters to tax themselves more to help pay for its construction.
Transferring city parkland requires a citywide vote, and both Minervini and Werner said they’re open to discussing a lease or some other kind of property interest.
Another discussion topic focuses on how the Headlee Amendment is impacting the city budget. The state law curbs the city’s operating millage levy as its tax base grows in value, documents show.
Commissioners also will consider drafting rules that would require construction companies blocking city rights-of-way to offer detours for walkers, bikers and other sidewalk users, not just vehicles, the agenda shows.