The Zoning Board of Appeals held their first 2016 meeting on Friday with a new leader at the helm, Blake Sercye, and a relaxed schedule of mostly routine items which made for a quicker than usual meeting. All applications on the agenda, excluding those that requested continuances, were approved. With a 12-page agenda filled mostly with special use requests to open salons and allow for single- and multi-family home expansions, the board adjourned by 4:30 p.m., a stark contrast from the preceding months, when controversial medical marijuana proposals pushed the monthly meetings well into the evening.

There was one medical marijuana application on the agenda, which was approved without public or aldermanic opposition. Illinois Grown Medicine, LLC, (IGM) an Illinois-based marijuana cultivation company, got a special use permit to open a dispensary at a vacant laundromat at 8554 S. Commercial Ave. in the 10th Ward. Approval is based on the condition that a representative from their outside consultant, Denver-based Natural Remedies, remain in Chicago for at least two months while the dispensary gets off the ground.

IGM is the same company that tried for months, but failed, to open a dispensary in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side. Every time representatives with then-calledHarborside Illinois Grown Medicine showed up to ZBA to plead their case, which was about four times since last spring, dozens of Chatham residents, shuttled to City Hall by a vocal neighborhood coalition, made their opposition known, frequently heckling in the gallery, holding press conferences against the dispensary, and accusing local Ald. Michelle Harris (8) of wavering on the issue.

The company eventually withdrew that application, a decision they announced in November, found a new location, and fired their original operator, California-based Harborside, the biggest dispensary operation in the country. One of the repeated complaints lodged against the dispensary was the owner’s brother’s criminal ties.

“We have brought in a new operator…this is because, frankly, all of our different regulatory bodies, including this body, were having issues and concerns with our last operator,” Paul Rosenfeld, a minority stakeholder in Illinois Grown Medicine, testified, naming former ZBA Chairman Jonathan Swain, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Finance and Professional Regulations as those who expressed concern.

Brett Framson, with their new operator, Denver-based Natural Remedies, will help get the dispensary off the ground. “We set the standard for the industry,” Framson told the zoning board, explaining that since the company started six years ago, there haven’t been any issues. As a consultant, Natural Remedies will have someone work with the dispensary to set up “standard operating procedures”, including hiring new staff, about 10-15 employees, and implementing security plans with Silver Star Protection Group, a private security firm hired to provide around-the-clock security guards at the dispensary.

“It will be me part time, but there will be others,” he added. But Sercye and Sam Toia, another member of the Zoning Board, took issue with him being an out-of state consultant, especially after he described his job as part time.

“We’re trying to go to from the rhetoric to the substance,” Toia pressed, before asking, “Is [Framson] going to be a consultant from Colorado or a consultant from right here in the 10th Ward?”

It was because of this confusion, and later promise from Illinois Grown Medicine (IGM) to have someone from Denver stay for at least two months while the dispensary gets off the ground, that ZBA added that approval would be dependent on having someone from Natural Remedies stay in Chicago for at least two months.

Local 10th Ward Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza later testified that she and the rest of the local community supports the dispensary, especially because it will be located in an area “long forgotten” and the owners have promised to hire locally and use union labor for construction. Local residents and businesses are especially happy that the dispensary comes with beefed up security, bringing a “sense of safeness to a corner where security is needed,” she added. Noting that “there are some naysayers”, Ald. Garza dismissed the opposition to a “ problem with education.”

“I welcome them to the 10th Ward and I look forward to, you know, cutting the ribbon as they say…I’m fine with this,” Ald. Garza concluded.

Only one person signed up to testify. Andrew DeAngelo, the president of Harborside, the operator IGM cut ties with when they scrapped the Chatham plan. He argued that since the state awarded a medical marijuana license to the previous partnership, this new partnership shouldn’t get a special use permit, because they’re not officially registered with the state.

But the attorney for IGM argued that IGM owns a majority share of the company and is in the process of buying out their minority investors. Adding that ZBA, “doesn’t deal with that, you deal with property,” the attorney said they would deal with the licensing issue if and when it comes up with other regulatory bodies.

Sercye agreed, concluding the hearing on that application.

This was Sercye’s first time heading a ZBA meeting, after only having a seat on the board for less than half a year. “This is only my fifth meeting,” he noted at one point. He was joined by Sheila O’Grady and Toia, who occasionally took over the reins to grill applicants in the same fashion as the former chairman, Jonathan Swain. Swain vacated his position as chairman of the board, a job he’s had since 2010, to accept a commissioner seat on the Chicago Board of Elections.

Notable Continuances

  • [38-16-S] An attorney for the Mark Twain Hotel, Sarah Barnes, with Sam Banks Law Offices, requested a continuance to March. The decision to delay the hearing, Barnes told ZBA, is at the request of local Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr.(27) He wants the the operators of the hotel to meet with one local resident to address some concerns they have over the project, Barnes said. There aren’t any major changes planned for the historic single-room occupancy hotel in the Gold Coast neighborhood and it will stay under its current use, Barnes told Aldertrack after the meeting. The hotel operators are just upgrading the doors to some of its rooms, and need a special use permit because it’s considered new construction, she explained.
  • [397-15-S] Zoning Attorney, Mark Kupiec, said his client, Chinese-based Sheng Man De Investment Company, needs a continuance because they are still working with the city’s Department of Transportation on an “issue”. The company is building a new, five-story, 60-room hotel at 2010-20 S. Archer Ave. in Chinatown.
  • [354-15-S] This is an application for a special use permit to establish a religious facility at Northside College Preparatory. Christ Center of Hope, Assemblies of God is the applicant. Tom Picarsic, their attorney, asked for a continuance to May. The Department of Planning and Development said parking was an issue, he told the board. The parking they found is across the street in a planned development, he added, saying they found a second location, and will have to amend or update the application.