STREETERVILLE — A city board denied a proposal to convert a historical house in Streeterville into a marijuana dispensary after strong pushback from neighbors and the alderman.
A cohort of neighbors railed against the proposed dispensary for the three-story building at 212 E. Ontario St. during a hearing Friday, voicing concerns about traffic and safety, among other issues. The Zoning Board of Appeals issued its decision killing the plan late Monday.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) praised the decision in a statement, saying it aligns with neighborhood sentiment about the project.
“Given the overwhelming neighborhood opposition to this proposed dispensary, I believe the Zoning Board of Appeals made the right decision in denying this application,” Reilly said.
The proposal to convert the Streeterville building was pitched by Green & Bransford, an Illinois-based LLC that lists Edward Bransford as its manager, according to public records. Bryan and Christy Zises are also partners in the company. The pair own and manage Dispensary 33, which has two locations in Chicago.
At the hearing Friday, an attorney for the applicants said Bransford, a Navy veteran, fulfilled the city’s “social-equity” requirement. The board also stated the city’s Department of Planning and Development recommended approval of the project.
Applicants wanted to remodel the building’s first and second floors to create about 7,000 square feet of retail space.
Joe Ryan, an attorney hired by the applicant, said the Downtown location was suitable for the dispensary because most customers would arrive by foot.
“Although there is no parking, most people will … walk to this facility,” he said. “That is why it’s a good location.”
Nestled between a medical facility and hotels, the Queen Anne and Romanesque house dates back to the late 19th century and received landmark status in 2020 as part of the Near North Side historic district. The American College of Surgeons sold the building in 2019 for $2.2 million to an LLC managed by Philip Sardo and Filippa Miraglia, according to public records.
The proposed remodel would not have impacted the building facade, the applicants said.
But a half-dozen objectors lined up during the hearing to speak against the project, many affiliated with the neighborhood group Streeterville Organization of Active Residents.
Dave Kostelansky, a member of the neighborhood group, disagreed with the assessment that most customers would be walking, saying the project would add to an already congested block, particularly with issues like double parking.
Gail Spreen, the past president of the local group, as well as Kass Plain and Gay Vincent, who previously served as president of the American College of Surgeons, said street crime had risen in the neighborhood since the pandemic, and they worried a marijuana dispensary could make it worse.
The Streeterville Organization of Active Residents’ “reasons for not supporting this proposed project are two-fold: its traffic congestion and community safety,” Spreen said. “This block is the most congested of anywhere in the neighborhood.”
The zoning board took the matter under advisement and issued their denial of the project on Monday. Angela Brooks, Zurich Esposito, Sam Toia and Brian Sanchez, who served as board chair, participated in the vote. Former chairman Timothy Knudsen did not participate because he is under consideration for an appointment to a position on City Council.
Reilly said other Downtown dispensary applicants have prioritized working with local neighborhood groups and residents to revise their plans to better fit the area. He said those applicants have generally been successful in winning local support for their proposals.
“Unfortunately, in this case, the applicant and neighbors did not have a successful collaborative process; the neighbors made that very clear to the ZBA and the application was rejected,” Reilly said.
At least three other cannabis dispensaries operate in the River North area, with a number of additional proposals waiting in the zoning board’s pipeline.
During the Friday hearing, the zoning board continued a second proposed application for a cannabis dispensary in the former Rainforest Cafe building at 605 N. Clark St. after an objector raised an issue with the applicant’s economic disclosures.
A third proposal, for a dispensary at 1914 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town, was approved Monday. The applicant is Canna Ventures, an LLC that lists Hanah Jubeh as its manager. Scott Weiner, a business owner in the neighborhood, said he is a part-owner of Canna Ventures.
The city’s planning department recommended approval of the project, which would convert the first-floor commercial space of a three-flat into a dispensary. The second and third floors would not be publicly accessible from the first, an architect for the project said. No objectors spoke against the proposal at the hearing Friday, and the applicants said Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) supported the project.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: