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Diluted Talk About Dispensary

Blue scaffolding stretches around the block of North  Elston Ave. and Kedzie Ave.,  where medical marijuana dispensary is set to open summer 2015.
Blue scaffolding stretches around the block of North Elston Ave. and Kedzie Ave., where medical marijuana dispensary is set to open summer 2015. Photo Credit: Michael Matthew Esparza

Residents of the 33rd Ward and candidates seeking to oust Ald. Deb Mell are criticizing the approval process for a proposed medical marijuana dispensary in Albany Park.

Critics said Mell held only one private meeting and one public meeting about the dispensary and they were denied the opportunity to voice their opinions about the business.

All three candidates running for alderman in the 33rd Ward against Mell questioned the process of locating the dispensary in the neighborhood.

Tim Meegan, 38, a social studies teacher, said he supports the use of a medical dispensary but didn’t think the alderman properly handled the application process.

“I think medicinal marijuana is appropriate, however, my problem is with the process itself,” he said. “The way that Mell handled the situation wasn’t appropriate. She had one community meeting, and she clearly had already made her decision of who she was going to support prior to that community meeting.”

Business owners who have issues with a dispensary moving in should have been taken into account, Meegan said.

While candidate Annisa Wanat, 41, a former employee at National Democratic Institute, said she favors the dispensary, she added it needs to be a transparent process.

“I am concerned a neighbor did not know about it,” Wanat said. “Neighbors should be consulted.”

Wanat said her issues are with the way zoning is done in the wards. She is concerned about what she said was the alderman’s “invitation only” meetings to discuss the dispensary.

There was no announcement posted on Mell’s website about the private meeting she held with the dispensary’s owner, although her site did have an announcement about the public meeting.

Mell was unavailable for comment, and her assistant, Ryan Cowden, said only the alderman or her chief of staff could comment.

Wanat said she is also concerned that Mell held only one public meeting regarding the business.

“Deb Mell did have a public meeting and posted it on her website, but not everyone checks her website,” she said. “It is very important that we act as a community when we have zoning decisions.”

And if it were her decision, Wanat said she would have made a better effort to inform local businesses about the dispensary, especially ones on either side.

Candidate Tyler Solorio, 25, a decorated Army veteran, agreed with Wanat that business owners should have been informed, and that he is not opposed to a dispensary.

“I am completely for it,” said Solorio, who comes from California where the dispensary laws are more lenient.

Solorio gave credit to Mell’s father, who served as 33rd Ward alderman for 38 years. Dick Mell, who resigned in 2013, allowing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint his daughter to the seat, was good at reaching out to the community and ensuring there was a liaison in his office who would speak to the public on issues concerning them, Solorio said.

Some neighboring business owners said they were upset that they learned about the dispensary only after it won approval by the Chicago City Council.

Howard Coles, 72, is the owner of a cabinet business – Countertops Services – which is located next to the vacant building on Elston Street in Albany Park that is expected to become a medical marijuana dispensary. He added that the lack of notification about his soon-to-be business neighbor upset him.

The dispensary is scheduled to open this coming summer after it won approval in October from Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which is required by a new state law.

The owner of the dispensary, Kind Care, already owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado, which has approved the recreational use of marijuana. Kind Care requested a special-use permit to open the Albany Park dispensary in the 3500 block of North Elston Avenue.

The dispensary also requires a license from state officials, which Mell’s office is confident it will receive.

“Everything’s been passed,” said Cowden, Mell’s assistant. “All we’re waiting for is the state’s approval.”

Although Kind Care does not have a state granted limited operational license, Coles said he believes it is a done deal.

Coles questioned the presence of large scaffolding, which is part of site renovation for the new dispensary, at his entranceway. The scaffolding obscures his business sign. The scaffolding was put in place a week ago, and Coles does not know if it has hurt his business.

He did not complain to the city or to Mell’s office because he thought the scaffolding was part of city renovations under way on the street.

“They just went ahead and put it up and didn’t even let us know,” Coles said. “We weren’t informed by the city.”

Coles, whose business has been operating at the corner of Elston and Kedzie streets since February 2012, said the new dispensary will be required to provide security guards from an hour before the dispensary opens to an hour after it closes.

The business will be required to have 24-hour security only if the city council decides it is necessary, under the state law.

Coles said the presence of guards will probably help reduce crime in the neighborhood.

And although Coles said he’s not concerned about the dispensary opening or what will be sold, but he wishes he had been contacted prior to construction.

He also said he worries about the dispensary’s customers using a large parking lot he owns behind the dispensary’s building.

“I hope [the dispensary’s] security manages it and doesn’t let their customers park there,” Coles said.

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