Some Sycamore residents voice concerns, support for possible marijuana craft grower in city

Sycamore City Hall was filled with members of the public on April 10, 2023 for a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

SYCAMORE – A marijuana craft grower facility received a preliminary green light after an almost three-hour Sycamore Planning and Zoning Commission meeting this week where some residents voiced concerns and support of the proposal.

If approved, the marijuana grower would be the city’s first business regarding the manufacture or sale of the drug, which became legalized for recreational use in Illinois in 2020. Sycamore’s city code hasn’t been updated regarding cannabis since the drug was first approved for medical use in 2014, documents show.

The craft grower facility as well as ordinance changes regarding marijuana related businesses are expected to go before Sycamore City Council for a vote April 17.

Chris Mayer and Arney Silvestri of 421 California Partners, LLC recently acquired a craft grower license from Illinois, and are now petitioning for a special use permit to operate a 25,000-square-foot marijuana craft grower facility at 421 North California Street in building No. 5. City documents show the marijuana product would be grown indoors before being packaged and sold to dispensaries in accordance with the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.

Silvestri of Geneva, who used to construct homes and commercial buildings, had to address concerns about crime, security, water usage and traffic during his presentation.

“I understand people’s fears, concerns and worries,” Silvestri said. “We’re putting together a facility that address all the state regulations that we have to do ... and then we’re also concerned about the community.”

Some members of the Israel of God Church in Sycamore, including Bishop Ronald Henton and Assistant Pastor Wesley Coats, came because to express concerns abuot by the proximity of the proposed cannabis craft grower to the church at 248 North Avenue.

“I understand people’s fears, concerns and worries. We have tried to put together, not tried to but we’re putting together a facility that address all the state regulations that we have to do.”

—  Arney Silvestri of 421 California Partners, LLC

Coats asked what assurances the city had that a marijuana craft grower wouldn’t generate crime.

“Some people might decide that they might want to procure it in some manner,” Coats said. “What protections do we have through the police and other means to ensure the people of the community are safe and sound? Have you thought about that?”

Westly Coats, an associate pastor at Israel of God Church in Sycamore came to the April 10, 2023 Sycamore Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to talk about his concerns with a marijuana craft grower facility operating near the church.

Silvestri said he isn’t that big on marijuana and personally doesn’t use it, but has found himself working across the country to help set up marijuana grow operations in state where it’s legal.

Speaking to security concerns, Silvestri said the craft growing facility would be situated in the middle of the industrial complex. It would also have no windows.

“All of the windows will be cinder-blocked up. We’re basically building a building inside of an existing building,” Silvestri said.

Sycamore Director of Community Development John Sauter also said state mandated security requirements for any cannabis-related business are “very strict.”

Deputy Chief Jeffrey Wig said the Sycamore Police Department looked into security and crime concerns a week prior.

“As it pertains to cultivations centers like this, or similar to this, we couldn’t come up with an incident where crime was targeted at one of these facilities,” Wig said.

The building would be so secure that Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters would have to notify Illinois State Police the day before he plans on entering the facility, officials said.

Finished product – fully grown marijuana plants ready for processing – would be kept in a locked vault in the building’s interior. All plants would be logged and tracked from planting to when it’s ready for transportation to dispensary. Plants that die are also tracked, Silvestri said.

The growing process takes two to three months, Silvestri said, and the facility would aim to have a singular van transport the finished products to dispensaries about once a month. The van transporting the truck would be loaded while locked inside the craft growing facility, and the Illinois State Police would actively track the van while en route.

Some community members expressed concern over the idea of a marijuana business in the area. Amy Haugen, however, spoke in support of the endeavor.

Haugen said she has been terrified a chemical company was going to come in an occupy the unused business space. She said she was relieved when she found out a marijuana craft grower was seeking to move in.

“I feel like just listening there’s a lot of fear about having a greenhouse that happens to grow cannabis in the area, not a dispensary,” Haugen said. “It’s a greenhouse and, honestly, you probably couldn’t pick a safer greenhouse because normal greenhouses don’t have to have cameras to the state police.”

Others voiced concerns that pesticide use could pose an issue for public health in the area near the proposed facility. Petitioner Arney Silvestri said while speaking no pesticides would be used while growing the marijuana plants.

Addressing concerns the facility would dump pesticides into the city’s water system, Silvestri said except for the facility’s bathroom and kitchen, no water would be put into the sewer because the facility would use a reverse osmosis system to purify the water it puts in trays under marijuana plants. The water that isn’t used by the plants then put back through the reverse osmosis system.

“To be honest with you, city water’s not the best all the time anyway,” Silvestri said.

The facility would also have a HVAC system that would utilize active charcoal to purify the air – similar to a water filter Silvestri said – to prevent odor from seeping out of the grow area.

“Nothing is directly vented to the outside of the building,” Silvestri said. “The only smell that which you could possibly have would be seepage, and the fact that we built a building inside of another building really cuts down on that.”

Special use permits are needed for marijuana operations in the city so city officials can take petitioners through a series of hearings meant to vet proposals and ensure facilities are up to code, Sauter said.

Commissioners also recommended multiple updates to the city’s marijuana use codes that also will go before the Sycamore City Council for a vote later this month.

City officials recommend marijuana cultivation centers be 2,500 feet from any kind of school or daycare, which also is a requirements for medicinal, adult or recreational use permits.

After a discussion lasting more than 80 minutes, the commission voted 7-2 to recommend the Sycamore City Council approve the marijuana grower permit.

The DeKalb City Council recently approved its first recreational marijuana dispensary set to go in downtown DeKalb. The dispensary will be preliminary women-led and is set to open by Corn Fest this year. The recreational shop is the first of its kind to set up in DeKalb County.

CORRECTION: This story has been edited to correct the date of the next Sycamore City Council meeting, which will be held on Monday, April 17.

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