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Royal Oak commission OKs recreational marijuana licensing ordinance

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Royal Oak City Commission on Monday approved an ordinance for recreational marijuana sales in the city and a measure detailing where the businesses can locate.

By a 5-2 vote, the commission first approved a recreational marijuana licensing ordinance slated to take effect Aug. 15. It states retailers and micro-businesses would be prohibited from operating within 1,000 feet of any existing school or any other retailer or micro-business.

The commission then had a second reading of related zoning ordinance amendments that called for distance between the marijuana businesses and parks or places of worship. But the commissioners voted to have only the 1,000-foot requirement from schools.

The decisions at the panel’s nearly four-hour virtual meeting came after more than 20 residents shared public comments opposing locating marijuana shops along Woodward Avenue and close to neighborhoods.

Many cited concerns about increased traffic and decreased property values.

This Aug. 22, 2019 file photo, shows medical marijuana plants during a media tour of the Curaleaf medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Ravena, N.Y.

“No one is going to move to Royal Oak as a resident because they want to be closer to a marijuana shop,” one resident told the commission in a recorded message.

Another said: “When we voted to legalize marijuana in Royal Oak, it wasn’t for approving distribution centers all along Woodward. It distracts from the presentation of the Woodward corridor.”

In a lengthy discussion, several commissioners said they had been studying the issue for more than a year. Voters in November 2018 approved recreational sales by a 56% to 44% margin. The commission researched the impact of marijuana shops in other communities, and city officials checked with other police departments about issues such as increased traffic and crime. 

“I think we’ve done more than enough to work on this issue,” said Patricia Paruch, mayor pro-tem. 

Mayor Michael Fournier said applicants face a long process to open in the city and would be rejected if they failed to meet criteria. 

“If any petitioner finds himself having the opportunity to get a license, wherever they plan to locate, those neighbors are going to be notified. Things are going to be looked at in great detail,” he said. “…This isn’t an ordinance that just allows for stores to pop up.”

City Manager Paul Brake said the city has to create an application process, which could take a few weeks. Plus, city offices have been closed during the pandemic, and employees and equipment will be moving into a new building in late August.

The city manager said once a process is in place, there likely will be an extensive review of applications and proposed sites, which could take 90 days.

Citing concerns residents raised about proximity to their homes, Commissioner Randy LeVasseur proposed a motion to the zoning issue adding a 150-foot buffer from residential neighborhoods.

Commissioner Kim Gibbs supported his motion. “We haven’t had any studies saying this is going to work out,” she said, adding she worried about shops opening near churches that host programs for people struggling with addiction.

“Having locations where drugs can be bought is not really helping those who are seeking help from these churches and houses of worship to keep themselves in a healthier position,” she said.

Her colleagues rejected the motion and instead passed another, introduced by Commissioner Sharlan Douglas, that tweaked the zoning ordinance amendments to match the licensing one, specifying the 1,000-foot space from schools. 

“Parks and churches have existed on Woodward and have been exposed to a lot of other” businesses, Paruch said, including those she believed posed more risk.

Fournier said changes could be made if necessary.

In the public comments that started the meeting Monday night, some residents said the commission should have done more research, and that any marijuana shops belong in an industrial area or other spot far from families.

"It’s really poor planning," one woman said. "It would be a stressor on the Police Department. It’s a stressor on the neighborhoods. … Why are you pushing for this?"

Staff Writer Mike Martindale contributed to this report.