The Mesa City Council on Monday voted against a request to rezone a parcel of land at 6350 E. Main St., just east of Recker Road, which would have allowed a medicinal marijuana dispensary to open there.
The would-be developer, Michael Richards, and the property owner, Judy Gaede, brought the request to the council in hopes it would be rezone the property from commercial to light industrial.
Gaede has owned the property since 1971 and insists she is only doing what she sees as the right thing for her property as well as the economic good of the area. She expressed her unhappiness, saying the hearing was supposed to have been about zoning, but turned into a debate over the merits of medicinal marijuana.
“I just think it’s unfair because I think it could have changed the whole thing,” said Gaede. “It is not a problem. It’s going to be like a doctor’s office. Nobody gets it.”
Mesa requires dispensaries be located in light industrial zoning. The state of Arizona divided the city, along with the rest of the state, into Community Health Analysis Areas, or CHAAs. Each CHAA gets one dispensary license, issued by the state, and Mesa has five such areas. The other areas all have dispensaries operating in them, but this particular section has no light industrial zoning.
There is county land with proper zoning inside the area, but Maricopa County has presented a major obstacle in the past, at one point ruling that dispensaries on county land must comply with federal law, and effectively banning them. Currently, the county does allow dispensaries in commercial zones.
Council members who ultimately opposed the measure said the main issue was the placing of industrial zoning next to residential zoning. The property is separated by only an alleyway from a residential neighborhood.
It was protest from the residents of this neighborhood, particularly landlords who own rental property there, which ultimately paved the way for disapproval of the request. State law says that, whenever 20 percent of local residents protest a zoning decision, the measure must receive a super-majority vote. The final vote was 4-3 in favor of the request, but did not meet the requirement to pass.
Terry Binelli, Councilwoman for District 2, where the proposed dispensary would have been, at the meeting said she did not think it was fair to make a zoning exception for this dispensary.
“I think it gives an unfair advantage to this dispensary because they are on a major street,” said Binelli.
There was some concern that a church some 300 feet away would ultimately stand in the way, but city staff confirmed that the group does not have all the proper documentation to enjoy protected status under city code. However, the lack of a certificate of occupancy is being remediated by the pastor there, and the City Council expressed that approving the zoning change would create a race between the church and dispensary to see who could finish their paperwork first — a situation some were unhappy with.
Ryan Hurley, chair of Rose Law Group’s Medical Marijuana practice group and a founding member of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said while the real obstacle is conflicts between city zoning codes and DHS guidelines, the response from locals has also been stifling.
“There have been a number of use permit hearings that have not gone terribly well for some people,” said Hurley. “It’s unfortunate that we continue to see this sort of knee-jerk opposition to marijuana dispensaries. It’s tough to do business when people operate out of fear.”
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