ROGERS PARK — Plans to move a Rogers Park dispensary into a former Leona’s restaurant have been scrapped after Ald. Maria Hadden said the pot shop would be better suited elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Chicago-based Verano Holdings has agreed to end its lease-hold on the former Leona’s restaurant, 6935 N. Sheridan Road, the site where it hoped to relocate its Rogers Park dispensary, said Hadden (49th).
Hadden said the cannabis company agreed to look elsewhere for a location after a community meeting where some neighbors balked at the idea of a dispensary on Sheridan Road — and after other opportunities for the Leona’s space presented themself.
“While the 49th Ward supported the zoning change overall, the immediate neighbors were not as supportive,” Hadden wrote in her newsletter. “Many felt this was not the best location for a dispensary to be located.”
After buying Green Gate Dispensary, 7305 N. Rogers Ave., Verano sought a larger and more prominent “flagship” location for the business in Rogers Park, company officials said at the community meeting.
The company sought a zoning change and special-use permit to open in the former Leona’s, with plans to rebrand Green Gate to its Zen Leaf dispensary brand. Moving to Sheridan Road would take the dispensary out of a more residential area of Rogers Park and onto a prominent commercial stretch, company officials said.
But some neighbors said the dispensary was too close to the lakefront and would bring more traffic to Sheridan Road.
After hearing from neighbors, Hadden asked Verano to consider spaces on Morse Avenue, where the dispensary could benefit small businesses along the street and near the Red Line business corridor, she said.
“They anticipate bringing a ton of traffic to the neighborhood,” Hadden said. “Bringing people to the neighborhood for other businesses is in line with our goals. [At Sheridan Road,] we get all of the traffic but none of the benefit of the traffic.”
The ward office presented alternative locations to Verano, but none have been determined suitable by the company, Hadden said.
A spokesperson for Verano said the company will continue to work with Hadden and the community on a location for its dispensary.
“While we are exploring additional options, we continue to see the value in an optimized commercial location for Zen Leaf in Rogers Park that would enable increased investment, hiring and economic growth opportunities in the neighborhood, while alleviating any traffic and noise concerns associated with its current location in a more residential area,” Steve Mazeika, director of communications for Verano, said in a statement.
Since the community meeting on the dispensary relocation, some established local businesses have expressed interest in opening in the Leona’s space, Hadden said.
Hadden did not reveal those businesses, but she said they would be more in line with a restaurant or banquet hall use. The ward office has decided to pursue those opportunities instead of the dispensary, she said.
“We are continuing to work with Verano on alternative sites and are excited that new opportunities have presented themselves through our community process,” Hadden wrote in her newsletter.
Green Gate dispensary opened in 2018 as an independent shop. It remained a medical-only dispensary until April 2021, more than a year after the state’s new recreational cannabis law went into effect. It was acquired by Verano in 2021.
Verano operates cannabis dispensaries in 12 states and has at least 10 locations in Illinois, including Zen Leaf outposts in Greektown and Evanston. The company was founded by George Archos, who owns the Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe chain of diners.
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