Good project, bad location
Glen Ellen cannabis dispensary gets thumbs down from SVCAC
Sarah C. Phelps
Evoking the savvy realtor’s motto, it’s all about location, location, location, Glen Ellen neighbors packed the room at the May 21 meeting of the Sonoma County Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) to lodge their concerns over a use permit application for a medical cannabis dispensary at the corner of Arnold Drive and Madrone Road, in the building once occupied by the old Glen Ellen firehouse.
“I’m not against medicinal dispensaries, just not in my neighborhood,” said Pam Palmgren, who lives six houses away from the firehouse property. “I would not want any business to come into my neighborhood that required security. Period. Period.”
The application for a 1,891-square-foot medical-only cannabis dispensary on the .33-acre property, called Apothevert, is designed to elevate and professionalize the patient experience. “This is not a pot shop from years gone by, but a professional medical experience,” said Jani Freidman, president of Apothevert, during her presentation to SVCAC commissioners. Friedman, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, lives in Petaluma. Her all-woman leadership team includes Teresa Bradbury, a retired child psychologist, and Samantha Smith, granddaughter of the late well-known Glen Ellen resident Bob Glotzbach.
Plans call for converting the firehouse’s office space, currently used by medical device manufacturer Globalmed Technologies, into a mezzanine and front entry where patients will have their credentials checked before being “buzzed in” through a locked door to the dispensary floor inside. The dispensary floor would include six private consultation stations, as well as an express area for patients who know what they want or are just refilling prescriptions. Business hours would be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The applicants anticipate 1,000 patients will register as patient-members during the first 12 months.
“A cannabis dispensary is no different than having a beer dispensary, a wine dispensary, a fire arm dispensary, or prescription drug dispensary,” said Freidman. Addressing the neighbors around her, she said, “We are listening. We have read these [comments] and are here to listen and adapt.”
And she got an earful.
Concerns raised by the neighbors centered mostly on traffic and the dispensary’s proximity to residential areas on Glenwood and Brookview drives and the Groves apartment complex, which border the firehouse property on the north side. The firehouse parcel itself is zoned Limited Commercial. “The applicant seems very professional. I would welcome them to open a business in Sonoma Valley,” said Ricardo Capretta, representing the Morningside Mountain Drive neighborhood, “but this application violates county code.”
The Sonoma County Cannabis Ordinance, passed in December 2016, requires a 100-foot setback from a residentially zoned district. That requirement can be waived, however, if an applicant can demonstrate that the actual physical separation they plan to provide – a fence, a berm, etc. – is adequate enough that no “offsite impacts will occur.” This requirement was discussed in detail by the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) in December 2017 during a hearing for a use permit for a dispensary located on Ely Road in Petaluma. The BZA ultimately approved that project with modified conditions.
The proposed Arnold Drive dispensary would have a tall wooden fence to serve as that required separation. “We believe our six-foot fence with sliding gate provides an adequate barrier,” said Freidman. The viability of any “physical separation” will be decided by the BZA, the next stop in the approval process.
Freidman also said Apothevert was in the middle of a traffic study to research the impacts their proposed two to three patients per 1/4 hour period would have on the level of traffic in the area, which neighbors emphasized is already very high.
Other neighbors were concerned about an increase in crime if a dispensary were to come to fruition. Freidman said the dispensary would have a very high level of security, with a guard on site during the day, a technologically-advanced security system with alarms, shatterproof LED lighting overhead, a locked safe for cash, locked product storage cabinets for inventory, and video surveillance, alarms and lights at night. Research and crime data show that dispensaries do not increase crime in neighborhoods because of the high level of security on the site, Freidman added.
As for the large number of kids living in the surrounding area, Freidman said, “There’s a big concern about children, but children don’t go on that property now and there’s no reason for them to go on the property when we own it.” Globalmed Technologies is a distributor and marketer of Medical Aesthetic equipment that is sold to medical-spas and physicians worldwide. They specialize in laser and light based technology, ultrasound, and radio frequency. The office of four employees plans to relocate to Napa, after which GoodHarold LLC has the option to purchase the property from current owners Ergas LLC, and then lease it to Apothevert.
Besides the 10 who spoke against it, one Glen Ellen resident spoke in support of the dispensary, citing her good experiences at medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Rosa. Four others were also there to speak in support, although none of them lived in the Glen Ellen area.
Freidman’s presentation seemed to impress most of the commissioners, with at least two commending its thoroughness and professionalism, and many voicing how difficult a decision they felt this was to make.
“I’ve been agonizing over this one since we got our [application] packets,” said Commissioner Margaret Spaulding, who lives in Glen Ellen. She heard all the neighbors’ concerns, she said, “but I honestly don’t get it. I don’t see how the lives of children will be threatened by this dispensary.” Spaulding ultimately voted in favor of the use permit.
“We can try this,” she continued, emphasizing that as a dispensary, Apothevert would have to apply for a use permit every year, unlike many other businesses in the area. “We approve wineries and event centers and they go off and mushroom and expand and we have no recourse. We have recourse on this one.” Since this use permit wouldn’t go with the land, much like it does with a winery when that property is sold or changes hands, dispensary applicants have to come back annually to seek permit renewal.
However, that assurance still didn’t make the application sit well with other commissioners. “I just feel like there’s a better place for this,” said Commissioner Helene Silver. “We support the project and all the work they have done, but not the location.”
“We are the citizens advisory committee,” said Commissioner Thomas Martin. “We have to stand by our residents and the positions they have taken.” Martin ultimately voted against supporting the use permit application.
When the vote was called at the end of the two-hour period, the motion to approve Friedman’s application was denied, 5 to 4.
Strictly an advisory body, the SVCAC’s comments will be passed along and taken into account when the BZA hears the application. A date for that hearing has not been scheduled yet.
Karla Noyes said she and other neighbors are gearing up to attend the BZA meeting and appeal to the Board of Supervisors, if necessary. “It seems to me that a business applying for a permit in a location where there is overwhelming citizen objection (and the fact that their Use Permit has to be renewed every year) that the business owner would think there is too much risk of possibly having their Permit revoked, every year - because the neighbors are logging every traffic backup, taking photos of the license plates of every dispensary visitor parked at the market or on the street, every alarm that goes off, everything. If I was that business owner I would look to locate someplace else where the neighbors weren’t going to ultimately shut me down. We own our houses, we raise our children here, and we are not going to allow this business in this location. Period.”
The applicant did not return requests for comment. Freidman will give another public presentation on Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m. at the Garden Court Café as part of the Glen Ellen Forum meeting.