Proposal would allow recreational pot sales to begin in Norwood Park and Jefferson Park without zoning relief
by BRIAN NADIG
The city’s proposed recreational marijuana use ordinance would impose no zoning relief requirements for existing medical dispensaries, helping to clear the way for legal recreational pot sales in Norwood Park and Jefferson Park as early as Jan. 1.
Several years ago the Zoning Board of Appeals issued special use permits to Zen Leaf Chicago (formerly Union Group) at 6428 N. Milwaukee Ave. and Columbia Care Illinois at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. to allow the establishment of a medical cannabis dispensary at those locations.
The special use was specific to medical-related uses, and city officials stressed at the time that a separate zoning process would be established if the state were to legalize recreational sales for adults. The new state law legalizing recreational marijuana takes effect on Jan. 1.
However, under a recent proposal by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, recreational sales would be allowed “by right” at those medical cannabis dispensaries established prior to Dec. 31, 2019.
Operators would be required to mail notices to owners of properties within 250 feet of the medical dispensary informing them of the intent to also sell recreational pot. According to the ordinance, no approval from the zoning board would be required, but operators would have to mail a list to the city of names and addresses they sent the notices to as well as a written affidavit certifying compliance to the chairman of the ZBA. While no zoning relief would be required, these operators would still have to apply for a recreational marijuana license from the state and be approved.
“This is a starting point (for the ordinance),” Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said. “It has not passed. We’re hoping they’ll be open to changes.”
Vittorio said that Napolitano has expressed interest in aldermen having the ability to seek a moratorium on the opening of recreational dispensaries in certain parts of their wards, similar to how taverns and liquor stores can be regulated.
In 2015, Napolitano opposed the opening of Zen Leaf due to concerns from residents that it would eventually sell recreational marijuana. “That was the biggest concern,” Vittorio said.
Those recreational dispensaries that would not be co-located within a medical dispensary would be required under the ordinance to seek a special use from the zoning board, which would hold a public hearing and take a vote on the matter. These facilities also would be prohibited within 1,500 feet from another medical or recreational dispensary and would have to be located at least 500 feet from a school.
The chairman of the ZBA would be authorized to conduct one or more lotteries to “allocate the opportunity for special use applications for adult use cannabis dispensaries to be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals,” the ordinance states.
The recreational marijuana ordinance was introduced at the Sept. 18 meeting of the City Council and requires approval from the full council.
The proposed ordinance would divide the city into seven cannabis zone districts, with up to 14 recreational dispensaries in each district, but recreational sales would be banned in Downtown Chicago, or the “Central District.”
A “Northwest District” would be bounded by the city limits to the north, Interstates 90/94 to the east, Division Street to the south and the city limits to the west.
A “North District” would be bounded by city limits to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, Division Street to the south and Interstates 90/94 to the west.