Aurora OKs sale of recreational marijuana

Chicago Tribune 0 month ago

Aurora is in.

The Aurora City Council voted 9-1 this week for a zoning amendment that will allow dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana in the city when it becomes legal statewide on Jan. 1.

Mayor Richard Irvin said after the meeting he expects a proposal for a dispensary site in the city by the end of the year, in anticipation of when the state can start issuing licenses after the new year.

While Aurora would not necessarily be eligible for a license right away, it could get a proposal from an existing medical marijuana dispensary company from another city. North Aurora, St. Charles and Naperville all have medical marijuana dispensaries, and the state law allows each of them a “plus-one” license - one recreational license in addition to their medical one - that they can use in any town that has made marijuana sales legal within their boundaries.

Also, there will be new licenses eventually allowed by the state - Irvin said city officials have heard the legislature is looking at 110 new licenses by 2021 - although there will be only 47 total allowed in a wide area roughly between Aurora, Naperville and Elgin.

The Aurora law passed this week would impose a limit of four licenses, with two reserved for social equity applications. Language adopted by the council would try to spread dispensaries around the city, not clumping them in one area or along one street.

“This was long overdue,” said Ald. Emmanuel Llamas, 1st Ward, an Aurora native, on passage of the new zoning law. “As someone who grew up in a community that was affected by the war on drugs and continues to be affected by the war on drugs, continuing that outdated policy is only going to hurt our community, our city, even more than it already has. This is one way to undo that damage.”

Ald. Sherman Jenkins, at large, said “something had to be done.”

“We could not continue to put our head in the sand,” he said.

“It’s really more a question of, how do you not opt in - based on the fiscal responsibility we have as a community, based on what the state of Illinois has already done to make it legal,” said Ald. Carl Franco, 5th Ward.

The lone vote against the zoning change was Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, who said he thought the state law was done too quickly with a “charge ahead mentality” that failed to give enough time to some issues. In particular, he said more time should have been spent on law enforcement issues, and that the state process “didn’t take enough time to consider what negatives there could be.”

He added that the change in law “should not be based solely on the fact it’s going to make money.”

“For a number of factors, I don’t think this is the best way to proceed,” O’Connor said.

Aurora officials and the mayor’s office have been considering how to handle the new state law since it was passed earlier this year. Their proposal became public in late September, and the City Council has been considering it - through public hearings and the planning process - for all of October.

Hashing out the law continued right up to Tuesday night, when the council considered five amendments to the new zoning change, passing four of them.

One of the amendments, moved by Jenkins, was to take language out of the proposal that would limit social equity applications to be located only in the social equity zone drawn up by the state. Jenkins and some other aldermen said they thought that would unfairly limit the number of locations available to social equity applicants. Meanwhile, the other two applications could locate anywhere in the city allowed by the new zoning law.

Under Jenkins’ amendment, a social equity applicant would not be mandated to locate in the zone, but could get extra points toward its application if it did locate there. The zone, as delineated in the state law, covers a wide area of the near East and West Sides, particularly in the central and southern parts of the city.

That amendment passed 8-2, but a second amendment proposed by Jenkins to try to avoid a “clumping” of dispensaries along one street, or in one area, passed by a closer 6-4 vote. Jenkins proposed that language in the new zoning law put a 1 1/2-mile minimum space between dispensaries, and not allow any two dispensaries on the same arterial street.

The language already said dispensaries could only be located on arterials, which are the city’s main and busiest streets. But Jenkins, backed by the mayor on this point, said he did not want to see them all along one highway.

“We don’t want all four along Route 59,” said Irvin.

While most aldermen agreed with the 1 1/2-mile limit, some disagreed with the limit on arterials. Franco pointed out that a street like Galena Boulevard, for instance, runs though a good part of the East Side and West Side. He said there could be dispensaries on New York Street on the far East Side and downtown - on the same arterial, but in different parts of town.

Irvin and the city staff pointed out that all licenses would be subject to gaining a special use, so review on each specific one, as well as a public hearing, would be necessary.

“It will be up to our staff to ensure these are spread out," Irvin said.

Aldermen also passed an amendment that would not allow a dispensary next door to a daycare center in a strip mall, and also one to include language that is in the state law about dispensaries having ventilation systems.

Aldermen tied 5-5 on an amendment to change the minimum space between a school and a dispensary from 750 feet to 1,000 feet, proposed by Ald. Patty Smith, 8th Ward. Irvin broke the tie with a no vote, meaning the minimum distance remained at 750 feet.

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