City council debates allowing pot shops in downtown

Blake Bacho

| The Monroe News

Monroe City Council continues to consider allowing a handful of retail recreational marijuana facilities to operate within city limits.

But where these businesses would be located within the city continues to be a sticking point.

Council discussed its ongoing efforts to establish a marijuana ordinance during a virtual work session held Saturday morning. The bulk of the two-hour-long session was spent discussing retail recreational marijuana facilities specifically, with council largely agreeing that they aren’t currently interested in allowing the more industrial businesses, such as processing plants or grow houses, within city limits.

City Manager Vince Pastue explained that, based on previous conversations with council and the lack of appropriate parcels of land within the city, retail marijuana businesses could essentially only be placed in the downtown area or along Telegraph Rd.

Councilman John Iacoangeli previously floated the idea that the cannabis industry could be a boon to the city’s efforts to revitalize its downtown, and he reiterated this belief Saturday.

“We should focus on areas where we want to see economic development,” Iacoangeli said. “Whoever puts a store in is going to spend money on redeveloping the store, make it look nice, and we can have design standards that would require them to do that. The bottom line is we have an opportunity here…”

Not every council member shared Iacoangeli’s enthusiasm for welcoming the recreational marijuana business into the downtown. Councilman Brian Lamour acknowledged that he is not only considering the issue from his perspective as a council member, but also as the owner of Lamour Printing Company, which is located in the downtown.

“I’m certainly not in favor of having anything (to do with marijuana) in Downtown Monroe,” Lamour said. “I’m not ready to sell my soul to that, to be honest with you… If you want to put a marijuana shop right next door to me, I’m not going to be a very happy business owner, I’ll tell you that.”

Mayor Robert Clark also balked at the idea of allowing pot shops downtown, citing a recent conversation he had with members of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Monroe Program, who indicated to him that they were against the idea.

“In fact, they had tenants looking to come in that are on hold pending this decision,” Clark told council. “…If we have business partners currently that are starting to move forward (with redevelopment), that should be considered as well. I personally am not in favor of it in the downtown, I think that there’s… (a) higher and better use.”

Councilman Andrew Felder said that he had a discussion with Downtown Monroe Business Network President Chip Williams, who told Felder that he had surveyed many of the downtown business owners and they largely objected to the idea of a retail marijuana facility in the downtown. Pastue said that while there have been no formal comments to the city or city council from business owners against the idea, he has heard “anecdotally” that there are business owners who are not in favor.

Iacoangeli took umbrage with these business owners who he felt were objecting to something that could benefit them and the city.

“They’re just selling a product that is almost like an herb,” Iacoangeli said. “It does have an odor, but not when selling it versus smoking it, then you have a different type of odor. It’s kind of interesting that it’s discounted right away without even looking at the various opportunities or potentials, or regulations that could be put in place.”

Iacoangeli also noted that there are properties within the downtown where a retail marijuana facility could be located that wouldn’t put them in close proximity to any residential properties, with the exception of a few upper-story apartments located within the downtown. He said that is not the case along Telegraph Rd., where the facilities would almost certainly back up against residential neighborhoods.

“The downtown makes perfect sense,” Iacoangeli said. “It’s all commercial, there’s not a lot of residential, at least single-family (residential). People have to park and walk to get to it, and we can get a building renovated. We’ve got a ton of those to get renovated, and I don’t think it will happen naturally. It hasn’t happened since I’ve been on council, the same buildings are just sitting there from the last eight years.”

But Clark and other council members reiterated that those who own or operate businesses within the downtown need to be heard before the city makes any decisions regarding marijuana that could affect them.

“We have those buildings that aren’t getting renovated, but I think of all of the ones that have been done,” Clark said. “That’s people that have invested in the downtown, and I think of their thoughts. If it’s impacting their willingness (for) additional renovation, I think we should consider that.”

“I agree that we need to find out the why from the business owners downtown,” added Councilwoman Michelle Germani. “From a retail standpoint, in the establishments that I have seen, they’re very sophisticated and they have good security measures. They’re tasteful inside. From a retail standpoint, it would drive traffic downtown and it would increase business down there…

“But I think we need to listen some more to the businesses and find out the why.”

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