The Lowell Planning Commission met for nearly two hours on Monday night to consider an application for a retail marijuana establishment in the building that formerly housed the RollAway Fun Center on E. Main Street.
Nearly a dozen residents spoke during a public hearing on the matter, and the commission ultimately voted to deny the application, citing concerns with screening, traffic and the general compatibility of a marijuana establishment in a residential area. All commissioners, except Amanda Schrauben, were present for the meeting which was held in City Hall.
Marijuana Business Proposal for 805 E. Main St.
Hive Wellness Group had proposed using a portion of the former RollAway building for retail marijuana sales. Half of the first floor and all the second floor would remain available for other uses.
For purposes of the application, city staff considered 805 and 825 E. Main Street as a single property since parking will be located on both parcels. Currently, 805 E. Main Street houses the building, and 825 E. Main Street has parking spaces and the remnants of a mini-golf course. In total, the property is 0.84 acres and surrounded on all sides by residential properties.
“It’s a difficult site because of its size and shape,” said Andy Moore, a planning consultant to the city from the firm Williams & Works. He noted that the property was legally nonconforming, meaning that it doesn’t meet current zoning standards for new construction.
Moore noted that the application was missing some elements, such as a landscaping and lighting plan. He also said that it did not appear practical or possible for the property to meet some C-3 zoning requirements.
For instance, landscaping requirements would require the addition of 9 trees and 28 shrubs along Main Street and 5 trees and 17 shrubs along Horatio Street. Parking spots should also be set back 10 feet from the road. However, enforcing these requirements could impact traffic flow and parking availability on the lot. Moore added that it already appeared on the site plan that there was not space for a required 24-foot maneuvering aisle to allow for two-way traffic in a portion of the lot.
Moore noted all previous marijuana business applications have been for the commercial area along or near W. Main Street. When previous site plans abutted residential properties, the Planning Commission had required fencing and landscaping to provide screening, but those options did not appear possible at 805 E. Main Street.
“We have potentially a high-volume, auto-oriented business surrounded by homes,” Moore said. “We question whether a marijuana retailer would be appropriate in this context.” He added, “I’m sharing this as my professional opinion.”
Public Comments on Marijuana Business
In his introductory remarks, owner Connor Baker said he had surveyed residents of 14 abutting properties and asked them to rate their support or opposition to his business proposal on a scale of 1-5. He reported that nine respondents said they were in favor or neutral about the business, four were opposed and one property could not be reached.
However, during the public hearing, only one nearby resident spoke in favor the business. Cheryl Jahnke, who lives at the corner of E. Main and Grove Streets, appreciated that Baker was cleaning up the property.
She noted that when the RollAway was open for skating on Friday nights, it was often busy and traffic on Main Street would be a problem with or without the addition of the marijuana business. “As long as he’s going to continue to improve the property, I don’t have a problem with it,” Jahnke said.
Other residents felt differently, including Amy Kugel who lives a few doors down on the 900 block of E. Main Street. She agreed that traffic was already a problem in the neighborhood and expressed a concern for the number of pedestrians in the area.
“I see people walk by every day,” Kugel said. “There are families and kids going down to the ice cream store, Showboat…and everywhere else that may be nearby.” In his earlier comments, Moore had also noted a concern about potential “conflicts with pedestrians.”
Other residents expressed concerns about noise, lights, snow removal and property values. Several said they did not have a problem with marijuana businesses but felt they belonged on the west side of town in the main commercial district.
Overall, eight people provided comments in opposition to the business application, and three people spoke in support. Those in support pointed to the good track record of Lowell’s current marijuana establishments and believed Hive Wellness Group would operate similarly.
Planning Commission Discussion
The Planning Commission broke down their consideration of the application into three parts:
- Site plan review standards
- Special land use review standards
- Adult use marijuana establishment special land use standards
During discussion on the various standards, commissioners shared concerns about the proposal.
“For me, green space is huge,” said Commissioner Marty Chambers. He felt that having some landscaping or screening around the property was vital.
“I have a problem with the traffic and the noise,” Planning Commission Chair Bruce Barker said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Colin Plank spoke more generally, noting that the standards call for businesses to not adversely affect public health, safety or welfare. “I think if I was a resident living across from an adult use marijuana [business], I might feel like my welfare is impacted,” he said.
Plank added that when the Planning Commission was crafting the marijuana ordinance, it used a map that outlined where businesses could be located. At that time, no marijuana businesses could be located on the east side of town because of a preschool that was operated out of the Lowell United Methodist Church. Since the preschool is now closed, the property at 805 E. Main Street is now eligible for a marijuana business. Plank thought the commission may have written the ordinance differently if they had known the preschool would close.
Additional discussion centered around the residential nature of the area, lack of sidewalks around portions of the property and traffic safety. “Marijuana establishments have been typically associated with high levels of traffic,” Moore said. He said these businesses are not usually considered “harmonious” with residential uses.
Later in the meeting, Baker pushed back on the assertion that the business would be surrounded by residential properties. “My business, Hive Wellness, is only leasing 805 and then I would have an additional agreement with Hive Wellness for additional parking spaces on 825 so therefore, it is not completely surrounded by residential,” he said. “It is residential on three sides…and commercial on one.”
Four Votes on Application
The Planning Commission took four votes during the Monday meeting. All votes were unanimous, and they were as follows:
- To deny approval of the site plan based on standards A, B, C, D, and F not being met.
- To deny approval of the special land use based on standards A, B, C and E not being met.
- To approve that the adult use marijuana establishment special land use standards were met.
- To deny the overall application based on the site plan and special land use standards not being met.
Apparently anticipating some legal action may come out of the denial, an attorney from the law firm Dickinson Wright who was present on behalf of the city encouraged the commission to be specific about why they were denying the application. “If it isn’t said out loud in the record, the court won’t know that it existed,” he explained.
A finding of fact and conclusions will be drawn up to summarize commission concerns and the reasons for the denial. It will be brought back to the commission for a review and vote on in October.
The next regular meeting of the Lowell Planning Commission will be on Monday, October 11, at 7pm in City Hall.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article owns property in the 700 block of E. Main Street and sent a letter to the Planning Commission expressing concerns about the business application.