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Proposed Gold Coast Weed Dispensary Rejected After Neighbors Put Up A Fight

It was the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals' first rejection of a pot dispensary location.

Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago
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GOLD COAST — After a marathon public hearing, a proposed weed dispensary in the Gold Coast was rejected by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals early Saturday, the first time the panel has nixed a recreational location since weed was legalized in January.

PharmaCann wanted to open at 12-14 W. Maple St. in the affluent neighborhood, but the proposal faced opposition from a group of neighbors, nearby business owners and three local aldermen.

The board’s 2-1 vote against the plan came at 2:15 a.m. Saturday after 12 hours of debate, including from 50 public speakers. Nearly 250 people signed up to speak during the online hearing.

Following the meeting, Jeremy Unruh, co-founder and vice president for public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann, said the company will now focus on other locations.

“We’re proud of how our team presented itself before the ZBA. While it’s disappointing to be denied our special use, the pause will give us an opportunity to reweigh some of the neighborhood issues raised by those who objected to our proposal,” he said.

A neighborhood coalition formed against the dispensary — Stop Pot at 12-14 W. Maple — said in a statement after the vote the zoning board “absolutely made the right decision.”

“The issue isn’t about marijuana. It is about the significant negative impact that the pot dispensary would’ve had on our community,” said Matthew Newberger, a spokesman for the group and president of the nearby Mariano Park Advisory Board.

The majority of the local residents who spoke at the hearing opposed the plan. Their input began at 11 p.m. after nine hours of debate between PharmaCann and an attorney for FJ Management — a formal objector to the dispensary. They sparred on everything from business and security plans to the definition of “loiterer.”

At the conclusion of the public comment period, after 1 a.m. Saturday, Chairman Farzin Parang allowed each party a closing argument.

Katriina McGuire, zoning attorney for PharmaCann, said the company had heard the concerns of neighbors and adjusted their business plans accordingly, including using an online-ordering sales system to prevent long lines forming on the narrow sidewalk outside the location and having three security guards during business hours.

Those who claimed the dispensary is a bad fit for the neighborhood didn’t have the “facts” to support that claim, she said.

“They’ve alternatively painted this neighborhood as quiet, small and almost sleepy,” she said, “Or then, so congested where any business that attracts any human beings would be devastating to this neighborhood.”

Eugene Murphy, an attorney representing FJ Management, claimed PharmaCann sold a “common commodity,” but the Gold Coast was “anything but common.”

“The support for the opposition is overwhelming, it’s a hurdle that PharmaCann and their attorneys and their paid experts cannot overcome,” he said.

In the end, the board voted 2-1 against the pot-shop. Two members of the board, Sam Toia and Sylvia Garcia, recused themselves, with Toia saying members of the Illinois Restaurant Association, which he leads, had spoken up in opposition to the dispensary.

The vote was the first time the zoning board has denied a special use permit to a recreational pot-shop since they were legalized in January. The board approved five dispensaries at a March meeting, including one over the objection of the local alderman, Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Despite the setback in the Gold Coast, the company is able to open three dispensaries in Chicago. It has filed paperwork with the zoning board for another Downtown location at 60 W. Superior St., and in Logan Square at 2551 N. Milwaukee Avenue.