LINCOLN PARK — As a cannabis company moves forward with its plans to open Lincoln Park’s first dispensary, Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) is taking an “agnostic” view, saying he feels “very strongly about getting this space filled by someone, whether it’s this company or another.”
Knudsen made his comments in response to a neighbor’s question during a community meeting Thursday about plans for the former Salt ‘n Pepper Diner, 2573-81 N. Lincoln Ave.
Marigrow, the company behind the Nature’s Care dispensary in the West Loop, wants to turn the spot into Ümi, a 4,970-square-foot dispensary. The company expects to invest between $1 and $1.5 million in the facility, according to Marigrow CEO Akele Parnell.
City Council approved plans for the dispensary in January after the project was approved by the council’s Zoning Committee.
The project continues to draw mixed feedback from neighbors and community groups. While some raised concerns about public safety and the proximity of the dispensary to Jonquil Park — a busy spot for youth baseball and softball — others expressed their support.
A neighbor who lives around the corner told Marigrow leaders she is “delighted” and “fully supports” the dispensary, drawing applause from some in the audience at the Apollo Theater Thursday.
Several parents in the audience said they were concerned about the dispensary’s products potentially getting in the hands of their children, despite all the safety precautions.
“This is really a family neighborhood, this is not the same as the West Loop. You don’t want to change the fabric of this neighborhood,” one neighbor said.
Parnell told neighbors he sympathized with their concerns and assured them “most of the people that go into the dispensary are 30-year-old professionals.”
“I understand your concerns here with kids. Children are also walking past liquor stores, tons of bars and alcohol is way more dangerous,” Parnell said, drawing another round of applause from the crowd.
Gary Little, the company’s director of operations, told residents that under state law the company must follow monthly security measures that are “very strenuous,” such as setting up surveillance cameras at nearly all angles of the facility and scanning state IDs to ensure only those who are 21 and above can enter.
“Believe it or not guys, it’s way more safe than you think it is,” Little said.
Before Thursday’s meeting, the Oz Park Baseball Association sent a letter to Knudsen and the Wrightwood Neighbors Association saying it strongly opposed the dispensary because of its location across the street from Jonquil Park.
“While we appreciate and understand the dispensaries are legal and need to have an opportunity to locate within the community, we just have a significant concern to be so close to the park,” Hockman told Block Club Friday.
Though Marigrow leaders have said they will provide armed security at their facility, “That’s also not something that we believe a 6-, 7- and 8-year-old who just wants to play baseball or softball needs to be exposed to,” Hockman said.
Knudsen said Thursday his main goal was for the space to be “commercially viable.” He said he will be meeting with the Wrightwood Neighbors Association to talk about “what the community clearly cares about.”
The Wrightwood Neighbors Association previously sent a letter to the alderman stating the organization did not support or oppose the project, given the mixed reactions from the community.
A neighbor who lives a block away from the prospective dispensary said the community was not involved enough in the process.
“The train seems to have already left the station,” she said.
Since getting council approval, the dispensary must now obtain a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Parnell said he will take all of the community’s feedback and “come up with more recommendations and proposals [to] put together a plan of operations” to present to the Zoning Board.
The dispensary is aiming for a grand opening in winter 2024, Parnell said.
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