Batavia makes plans for recreational marijuana

Council acts after voters favor allowing dispensaries

BATAVIA – The Batavia City Council is moving ahead with plans for the zoning and regulation of recreational marijuana dispensaries in the community.

The council’s action comes after Batavia residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing recreational pot shops to be permitted in the city.

In a 9,662 to 5,703 landslide, Batavians supported the Nov. 3 advisory referendum, with nearly 62% in favor.

The ballot question asked: “Shall the city of Batavia allow the sale of recreational adult-use cannabis with its jurisdiction, subject to statutorily permissible restrictions?”

Just seven days later aldermen began to determine what those restrictions will be, through use of the city’s zoning code.

In a committee meeting on Tuesday, the council voted to allow recreational dispensaries in the city and decided to use the conditional-use permit as the vehicle for approving a retail cannabis business.

Aldermen set a Dec. 16 hearing for the Batavia Plan Commission to consider where recreational marijuana dispensaries might be located and a Jan. 4 committee meeting for the council to move ahead with the commission’s recommendations.

However, the council is forwarding no recommendation of its own to the commission concerning the zoning classifications where cannabis businesses may be located.

Several aldermen said that the sale of legal weed in Illinois, which debuted on Jan. 1, has been a success.

“I think it has been larger than anybody realistically expected,” 2nd Ward Alderman Marty Callahan said.

Callahan’s 2nd Ward colleague, Alderman Alan Wolff, said he wants the city to have its approval process in place so as not to lose out on a potential new business.

“I really think we need to get this done so we aren’t a non-option,” Wolff said. “We have a lot of room in the industrial park.”

Much of the discussion by aldermen focused on potential locations.

The city’s far east-side industrial park is considered one possibility, although some aldermen worried that the cash-only nature of cannabis shops would make them inviting robbery targets, while others noted that the dispensaries provide their own security.

Several aldermen indicated they believe that Randall Road, which operates under a general commercial zoning classification, would be the most logical location. A few indicated support for the downtown, but not all.

“That’s not an overall good look for the downtown,” 5th Ward Alderman Mark Uher said.

In the first of a series of votes, aldermen essentially accepted the referendum’s judgment on an 11-2 roll call and voted to allow recreational dispensaries in the city.

Voting in favor were Callahan, Wolff and Uher, along with 1st Ward Alderman Jennifer Baerren, 3rd Ward Alderman Dan Chanzit, 4th Ward aldermen Tony Malay and Joe Knopp, 5th Ward Alderman Abby Beck, 6th Ward Alderman Michael Russotto and 7th Ward aldermen Drew McFadden and Keenan Miller.

Voting against were 1st Ward Alderman Michael O’Brien and 6th Ward Alderman Nick Cerone. Third Ward Alderman Elliot Meitzler, who in the past has indicated opposition, was absent.

Then, the committee voted 13-0 that it will place no limits on the number of marijuana dispensaries allowed in the city.

“I think the market is going to take care of that,” Wolff said.

In subsequent votes, aldermen decided to give the plan commission no direction on the question of zoning and that the city will follow the state law on minimum distances between dispensaries and schools, parks and churches.

Finally, aldermen voted to employ the conditional-use permit system for approving and regulating the dispensaries.

“This allows us to have better control,” Community Development Director Scott Buening told the aldermen.

The committee did not discuss potential tax revenues from a cannabis shop.

Under state law, cities may charge a municipal tax of up to 3% on marijuana sales.

There currently are no marijuana businesses of any type in Batavia.

The city has an ordinance in place allowing for marijuana growing facilities in industrial areas and for conditional use permits to be issued by the council for medical cannabis dispensaries in some industrial and commercial zones.

Mayor Jeff Schielke had previously threatened to veto any ordinance establishing a recreational cannabis business, although he said he probably would sign an ordinance for a medical marijuana dispensary.

In the wake of the referendum result, Schielke appears to have softened his position. If he did issue a veto, it would take at least 10 votes from the 14-member council for an override.