Council Awards the Prize of Marijuana Retail on Grand River Ave.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 1:10 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Compassionate Associates has won the coveted right to open a medical marijuana provisioning center along East Lansing’s main drag.

Last night, City Council voted 5-0 to approve Compassionate Associate’s site plan and special use permit application for a dispensary to be located at 1234 East Grand River Avenue, a quarter mile west of Hagadorn Road on the south (campus) side of Grand River Avenue.

Compassionate Associates, which is associated with marijuana industry player Pincanna, had previously wanted to locate at the former site of Cosi’s restaurant downtown, but Council had declined to allow a dispensary at that location.

Council’s approval included almost 30 conditions, including that the applicants renovate the property to make it look like the rendering provided (above).

Because of how Council previously decided to zone for provisioning centers, only one of the four Grand River Avenue applications being considered last night could obtain approval, effectively providing an exclusive retail opportunity for the entire downtown area.

The building at the approved site is currently in use as a small apartment building (above) and is located between another apartment building and the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.

The national fraternity office wrote in to object to the plan, and Nancy Marr of Prime Housing Group, the owner of the Lowebrook Apartments building on the other side (below), came to Council in person to object.

Marr said that having a dispensary in this location did not make sense for the “neighborhood” of the area. That side of the Grand River Avenue is developed with apartment buildings and the fraternity.

Scott King, who owns Tasty Twist across the street, also came to “voice our opposition to any of the dispensaries on Grand River Avenue near our location.”

He said none would fit with the family-friendly community feeling of that area.

Council Member Shanna Draheim expressed sympathy for those concerns. But Mayor Mark Meadows said he was unpersuaded by worries about the location, as the students in the nearby apartment building and frat next door did not speak up to object.

Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann said he favored this project over the other applications because it was the farthest of four site applications from MSU, and MSU’s interim president had asked not to locate dispensaries near campus. (The property is divided from campus by the Red Cedar River.)

Several Council members, including Meadows, said they liked that the entrance for this project would be in the back, allowing discretion for buyers.

Ruth Beier noted that this applicant, unlike the others, stressed that they were providing a health service, and she said that when retail recreational marijuana comes to town, she thinks this group will continue to focus on the medical applications.

Some of the applicants made no bones about the fact that they planned to use any medical dispensary approval to sell recreational marijuana when that becomes possible.

Compassionate Associates will use only two of the three floors of the site’s apartment building because the zoning ordinance would require them to have more onsite parking if they used all three floors.

The property is currently owned by Cron Management. Applicant Steve Schafer (below right) told Council Cron was willing to sell because of the softening of the market for smaller, older rental buildings being caused by the construction of big new housing projects like The Hub, just down the street. Schafer described Cron as “fearful of what is coming in future.”

Like all the applicants, Schafer showed up with his lawyer (Jerry Griffin, above left). The scene at Council was intense, as the four sets of applicants vied for Council’s approval, trying to make the argument that they were the best choice.

Several offered $100,000 and more in charitable contributions to area nonprofits, with applicant DNVK offering $50,000 per year for the Capital Area Housing Partnership, a favored charity of Mayor Mark Meadow, who sits on their board.

Meadows said he would recuse himself from voting on that project, but he did not recuse himself from voting on the competitors, which meant, in effect, he was voting on that project. (He effectively voted against it.)

Compassionate Associates, the winner, pledged a minimum of $40,000 per year for Haven House, an East Lansing homeless shelter, $40,000 per year for Children and Family Charities, $10,000 for the Capital Area Humane Society (“we are dog lovers,” Schafer told Council), and $10,000 for the East Lansing Arts Commission.

City Attorney Tom Yeadon, answering a question from Beier, said that such pledges were effectively unenforceable.

A group of three brothers associated with another set of applicants – ABCD Properties and Fresh Coast – had donated $500 to the “vote yes” pro-income-tax campaign last year. One of those brothers, Nick Piedmonte, came last night with his step-father and co-applicant William (Bill) Marchido and a posse of experts hired to try to undermine other applicants with criticisms launched from the podium.

This group wanted to turn the former Oadie’s Big Ten store into a dispensary. They brought in local political consultant Brett Henderson, plus attorney Saulius Mikalonis from Plunkett Cooney, who told Council that some of the other properties suffered from environmental contamination.

Also representing ABCD/Fresh Coast, Lansing landscape architect Robert Ford criticized the other site plans. The Oadie’s site, Ford told Council, was superior to all the others – even though it lacked the required parking and involved a site plan changed substantially shortly before the decision date.

The property approved last night (identified below with a light purple star) brings to a total of four the number of sites approved in East Lansing for medical marijuana provisioning. Late last month, Council approved plans for West Road (red star), the old Sawyer Pontiac dealership (dark green), and a private property on Merritt Road that currently houses a dentist’s office (dark blue).

A challenge faced by all the Grand River Avenue applicants – and by City Council and staff – was figuring out how the special East Village form-based code applied in this case. That code was designed over a decade ago for a massive project that never materialized.

Council is expecting at least one more application for a medical marijuana provisioning center, namely for the City’s own property on Merritt Road, former site of the Department of Public Works.

That property ended up in contract with Jeff Yootoma, representing Kodiak Landarc, for just over a million dollars following an eBay auction of which only a few people were informed by City staff and Council members. The auction came to light only well after it was over.

Yesterday, Brett Henderson, the political consultant for failed-applicant ABCD/Fresh Coast, confirmed ELi’s reporting that he had been notified by City staff when the auction opened. He says this is because he had a client who had been interested in the property, but would not say who that was.

At public comment at the beginning of yesterday’s meeting, I asked Council the questions I’ve been asking on the eBay land sale:

“If the goal of the eBay land sale of the Merritt Road property was to maximize income for the taxpayer, why wasn’t the sale widely advertised by the City, at least on its website and in a press release? And if the goal wasn’t to maximize income for the taxpayer, what was the goal, and who set that goal?”

As usual, Mayor Mark Meadows thanked me for my questions and moved on without response.

 

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