[Ed. Note: This is our first ZBA hearing report. We plan to cover future hearings and would like feedback from those who regularly attend ZBA hearings and who follow them closely. Please drop us a note if you have comments.]

It was a marathon day for the Zoning Board of Appeals, with board members spending a bulk of the first half of the day-long meeting grilling medical marijuana dispensary applicants. After working through a routine collection of special use applications for nail salons and barber shops, board members spent hours voicing concerns over security, ownership, and community involvement with the dispensaries. By the end of the day, nearly all the nail salons were approved but the future of three dispensaries was still up in the air until ZBA’s next meeting in August.

Start Time: 9:21 a.m.
Members Present: Jonathan Swain (chairman), Sam Toia, Sol Flores, Sheila O’Grady
Meeting Agenda – Map

Modern Cannabis, LLC – 1st Ward

The first and only successful marijuana dispensary applicant of the day was Modern Cannabis, LLC and their proposed dispensary relocation to 2847 W. Fullerton Ave; a hearing that took just over thirty minutes. Their initial application made headlines as a unique partnership between a pharmacist, Barry Golin and arcade/bar owners, Danny and Doug Marks. The Marks initially wanted to set up shop in the expanded game room of their bar at 1368 N. Milwaukee Ave. but argued Thursday before the board that their new Fullerton location is a better fit. Tom Murphy, attorney for Modern Cannabis, says the Milwaukee location, “gave us the opportunity for enhanced security.” Their initial and revised applications were both approved by the state.

There’s no public parking outside the new location, but Murphy says there will be valet service. ZBA Chairman Jonathan Swain expressed concern almost immediately about transporting patients to and from the building without a secure parking lot. Owner Daniel Marks says they’re applying for a valet loading zone, and they’ve located off-street parking spaces and a valet company for patients. They also plan to have appointments for handicapped, sick, and infirmed patients to meet at the train or their parking spaces.

The board approved the dispensary relocation on condition of Ald. Joe Moreno’s (1) approval of the valet loading zone, and also strongly encouraged the owners to consult with newly-elected Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), whose ward borders the new location.

DNA Info reported the applicants hoped to have their shop up and running by August. They say it was one of the first dispensaries to be granted a special use permit by the city in October.

Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, Inc – 8th Ward

The owners of Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, Inc. faced more difficulties in their hearing. Their proposed dispensary in Chatham, at 1111 East 87th St., faced over an hour of questioning from the Board. CEO Les Hollis, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, says their project is a joint venture between California-based Harborside, the biggest dispensary operation in the country, and Illinois Grown Medicine, which has a marijuana cultivation operation in Illinois. Hollis says they’ve already been awarded a state license, but the state has not approved the relocation.

Chairman Swain pressed Hollis and Craig Moore, who is handling Illinois Grown Medicine’s real estate matters, about their community outreach efforts and the new location. Hollis argues that the new location, which they describe as a wellness-medical campus, is better suited for their business. He says after the designation of the Pullman historic district, Ald. Anthony Beale (9) suggested they move further north. Hollis says Ald. Michelle Harris (8) supports the Chatham location.

Board members peppered owners and attorney James Vasselli (Del Galdo Law Group) with questions about charitable contributions, day-to-day operations, and ownership, but the consideration seemed to derail over the accuracy of economic disclosure statements.

“I need Illinois Grown Medicine LLC,” Chairman Swain said, “IGM LLC is not Illinois Grown Medicine LLC. That’s Business Organizations [from] law school first year. Those are two separate companies.” There seemed to be a mixup between IGM LLC, which is related to the dispensary business, and Illinois Grown Medicine LLC, which is related to a separate cultivation business.

Swain then said until the paperwork error was fixed, the Board would have to postpone deliberation. Ownership percentages were brought up later in testimony. “Let me get with my attorneys and make sure we get this right,” Hollis said.

Testimony continued for nearly an hour after the ownership mixup. The Board continued to push the group on security, hiring, and the cost of the product for patients. There was only one person who spoke against (you guessed it)–Mr. George Blakemore. ZBA will return to the issue at their June 19 meeting.

Before a lunch break, all applications regarding salons and barber shops from the morning’s proceedings then quickly passed, with the exception of Paradise Nail Corporation’s application, which Ald. Patrick Thompson (11) asked to be continued, and DBA Mercy’s Unisex Salon, which had objectors, but no expert to testify in favor.

When the Zoning Board of Appeals reconvened for their afternoon session, they postponed hearings on two proposed medical marijuana dispensaries in the 41st and 50th Wards.

420 Capital Management, LLC – 50th Ward

Thomas S. Moore, attorney for 420 Capital Management, LLC, requested a continuance for his client’s application to open a medical marijuana dispensary on 6501 N. Western Avenue, because he was recently hired to replace the applicant’s former attorney. The local alderman, Debra Silverstein (50), opposes the location for the dispensary because of its proximity to a neighborhood park. She sent out a ward-wide email reminding residents of the ZBA hearing and was present for the hearing in the Council Chambers.

Union Group of Illinois, LLC – 41st Ward

The Board approved Ald. Anthony Napolitano’s (41) request to postpone a hearing on a medical marijuana dispensary in the 41st Ward, despite concerns from the applicant’s attorney, who said a delayed hearing could jeopardize their application with the state. Union Group of Illinois, LLC applied for a special use permit to open a dispensary on 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Avenue shortly after the state approved their application on February 3, 2014. But Ald. Napolitano said he had little knowledge of the application.

“Just coming into the office on the 19th, I don’t feel that my ward has had enough time to review this or even understand it,” Napolitano testified. “It’s only been nine days since anything has been put in front of anyone in the ward.”

The attorney for the applicant, Joseph P. Gattuso with Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, said while he understood the alderman’s concerns, the company had been in talks with Napolitano’s predecessor. Gattuso added pushing the hearing to August “will kill us” because the applicant has until June 3rd to submit a zoning approval to the state.

A Fresh Start Sober Living Environments, Inc. – 1st Ward

The ZBA meeting concluded with one of the lengthiest debate of the day; nearly four hours was spent hearing testimony on a proposed expansion of a for-profit drug rehabilitation center on 530 N. Marshfield Ave. in the 1st Ward part of West Town.

The applicant, A Fresh Start Sober Living Environments, Inc., operates eleven group homes in Chicago for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. The homes don’t accept insurance or offer on-site treatment, none of the staff are trained medical professionals, and the weekly cost of renting a room ranging from $175 to $300, according to testimony from the company’s president, Leonid Goldfarb.

Goldfarb sought approval to add an additional four beds to his West Town facility, which is a three bedroom, 2 ½ story, single family dwelling zoned to hold 8 occupants. He said the expansion was necessary to help their mission of “saving people’s lives” because recovering addicts who live in a communal setting are less likely to relapse. He was represented by former Zoning Committee Chairman William J.P. Banks and received support from Robin Belleau, the Executive Director of the Illinois Lawyer’s Assistant Program, which houses many of its law students, lawyers, and judges recovering from alcohol and drug addiction at Fresh Start sites.

But during the lengthy cross-examination and public comment portion of the meeting, a coalition of neighborhood residents, who had created their own legal defense fund, raised safety and legal concerns. They accused the applicant of running the facility like a hostel, underreporting the number of occupants living in the building, and lying about safety measures that had been put in place. The resident group submitted evidence alleging rampant drug use by tenants, police reports that had been filed against tenants over the year, and pictures of abandoned cars they believe were left by former tenants.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1) also spoke in opposition. He said while he is usually a proponent of these kinds of facilities, he can’t get behind the applicant because they didn’t proactively seek his support when they first opened their doors. “I didn’t meet these people until the City Law Department said they needed a special use permit,” Ald. Moreno said. “Then they went to court and that’s why we are here today. We are not saying anything about the mission, we are talking about the operation. They are not able to handle the clients and what they said they are doing.”

The Board voted a continuance on A Fresh Start for June 19 when they will hold their next meeting.