As Richmond officials consider pot dispensary, some residents question its location

A Q&A session was held to learn about its location, possible traffic issues

The site of the proposed cannabis dispensary at at 5500 Swallow Ridge Drive, in Richmond on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.

It wasn’t until a Richmond village intern contacted him that Zachary Zises had ever heard of Richmond, Illinois, let alone considered building a recreational marijuana dispensary there, he said.

Now, he’s seeking the go-ahead to construct a building that would bring legal weed to the northern Illinois village that hugs the Wisconsin border.

And not all residents are exactly thrilled with the idea.

“Richmond reached out to me,” Zises of 280E Inc. said before an information session Thursday night at Richmond’s Village Hall. “That is one of the reasons we were interested in it because the village was excited about it.”

Maybe not everyone.

Residents packed into the Village Board room to hear more about a proposal to put a dispensary on the north end of town. Many residents stayed after the session to make their statements during the public comment portion of the board meeting that followed to ensure they were on the record.

Several residents speaking Thursday night said they welcomed a dispensary but did not like the proposed location.

The undeveloped property Zises is eyeing for a dispensary sits at the corner of Swallow Ridge Drive and Route 12 on the village’s north end. The property is less than a mile from the Wisconsin state line. Drivers heading north can continue on the highway or go left onto Burlington Road just past the proposed site.

A map of the Richmond neighborhood surrounding a proposed legal cannabis dispensary.

Legal cannabis has become big business in Illinois since legal sales started on New Year’s Day 2020.

According to Gov. JB Pritzker’s office, as of July 25, Illinois’ total tax income from adult-use marijuana grew 50% between 2021 and 2022, going from $297.7 million in fiscal 2021 to $445.3 million in fiscal 2022. Total adult-use marijuana sales also increased from $1 billion to $1.5 billion.

Local governments also saw a significant jump in marijuana tax disbursements between 2021 and 2022, increasing 77% from $82.8 million to $146.2 million.

Zises acknowledged the Richmond location is attractive in part because of its proximity to Wisconsin.

Zachary Zises, owner of 280E LLC, presents the plans for a proposed cannabis dispensary Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, to a standing room only crowd attending a listening session at Richmond Village Hall. The proposal is set to be voted on by the Village Plan Commission at a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22. Most the the residents at the listening session voiced their approval of the dispensary, but we opposed to the proposed location is at 5500 Swallow Ridge Drive, just off a busy stretch of Highway 12 just south of where Burlington Road branches off the highway.

A plan commission meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday in the Village Hall board room, 5600 Hunter Drive, to consider zoning changes that would allow for the dispensary. That meeting may be moved to allow for the expected capacity crowd, Village President Toni Wardanian said.

Update: The meeting will now be held in the cafeteria at Richmond-Burton Community High School, 8311 Route 31, “to ensure there is enough space for everyone who wishes to attend,” the village said in a Facebook post.

Even if the zoning commission votes in favor of the proposed change, it still would need further approval before getting the final green light.

Edward Varga, a parishioner at the nearby St. Joseph Catholic Church who opposes the proposed dispensary site, said Richmond’s zoning ordinance currently does not allow a dispensary adjacent to a residential zone. That is why the village plans to change the zoning of a parcel currently holding a retention pond from residential to general business, he said.

That might not have to happen, the village attorney said Thursday night. Instead, the planning board can pass an amendment that allows a dispensary within 250 feet of a residential structure.

Abigail Quentrall-Quezada, who lives in the subdivision adjacent to where the dispensary would go, said she has no problem with having a dispensary in the village and understands the Village Board’s desire for the additional tax revenue it could generate.

But Quentrall-Quezada said she is concerned about the potential spike in traffic a dispensary would bring.

Abigail Quentrall-Quezada asks Zachary Zises, owner of 280E LLC, a question as he talks about his plans for a proposed cannabis dispensary to a standing room only crowd attending the listening session at Richmond Village Hall on  Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. The proposal is set to be voted on by the Village Plan Commission at a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22. Most the the residents at the listening session voiced their approval of the dispensary, but we opposed to the proposed location is at 5500 Swallow Ridge Drive, just off a busy stretch of Highway 12 just south of where Burlington Road branches off the highway.

Swallow Ridge Drive is the only access road for residents of the Trails of Pheasant Ridge subdivision, Quentrall-Quezada told the Northwest Herald before the meeting.

“Exiting our neighborhood currently is extremely dangerous without the addition of increased traffic. Our children must walk on the road in this area, as the village will not install sidewalks,” Quentrall-Quezada said in an email to the Northwest Herald. “The intersection has traffic from three roads merging onto one. It is dangerous. Increased traffic will only make it more dangerous.”

Her family bought their house 17 years ago. It was the third built in the 27-home development, she said.

When the subdivision first went in, there were no traffic controls at Route 12 and Swallow Ridge, she said. There were promises of a second access road for the subdivision that never happened, either, she added.

The Illinois Department of Transportation eventually put in a right-in, right-out only traffic control island for motorists traveling onto or off of Swallow Ridge, Quentrall-Quezada said.

They only can go south off the street and must turn around if they need to drive north. Residents often use parking lots from an adjacent hotel or the shop across the street to make a U-turn, she added.

According to documentation from the police department, there were 65 crashes at the intersection between 2012 and 2021. Of those, there were 30 injuries and 35 property damage reports, according to the documents.

A traffic light may be the only option to fix the intersection’s issues, Quentrall-Quezada said.

IDOT determined that the intersection needed improvements, possibly a traffic light, in the early 2010s, Wardanian said. But it is low on the state agency’s priority list, she said.

What could get the state to improve the intersection is a business there, Wardanian said.

Zises said plans call for two entrances and exits to the property to reduce congestion, adding that IDOT has indicated a traffic light is needed.

Quentrall-Quezada said she also has concerns about the traffic during the annual Country Thunder music festival. Held about 2 miles north near Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, traffic on Route 12 and Burlington Road can be backed up for hours during that weekend, she said.

When the semitrailer weigh station on Route 12 is open, trucks waiting to drive over the scales can back up for a half-mile, she told the Village Board on Thursday night.

A few years ago, a driver frustrated with festival traffic turned into her subdivision and drove across her lawn and the adjacent St. Joseph Catholic Church cemetery to get onto Burlington Road, Quentrall-Quezada said.

That is one of the reasons St. Joseph Catholic Church also is against the dispensary site, said Varga, a professional civil engineer licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin. He did not attend Thursday’s session but plans to present his argument at the meeting Monday night.

Varga said he is concerned some motorists may enter cemetery property to turn around, use their marijuana products before passing into Wisconsin, and possibly cause damage in the process.

Although the cemetery is surrounded by Richmond, it is not annexed to the village. If there is damage, residents have to wait for a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office deputy to file a report, Varga said.

“There is an incredibly narrow drive, no signage, no security features whatsoever,” he said. “We are worried about upkeep, littering or destroying headstones. We are concerned that it will become a hangout and an added expense to us.”

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