Restrictions urged for Danville pot facilities

Restrictions urged for Danville pot facilities

DANVILLE — Two community leaders concerned about increased crime and using up premium land for economic development are urging a city panel to recommend placing tighter restrictions on locations in and around Danville where medical marijuana could be grown and sold.

"We do not support any type of (medical marijuana) facility," Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said Thursday. "This community is plagued by a significant amount of violence. Much of that is related to drug activity.

"While it's not our intent to stop these types of businesses from operating here," he continued, "I think requiring a special-use permit is an absolute necessity ... to control who comes in and where they are located."

Thomason and Vermilion Advantage Executive Director Vicki Haugen shared their concerns about potential cultivation centers and dispensaries, now allowed in Illinois, and the locations they are eyeing to the city's planning and zoning commission.

Commissioners began looking at where those types of facilities might be able to locate in the city and its 11/2-mile "buffer zone," under current zoning laws, and whether tighter restrictions are needed.

"I guess it would be prudent to follow what everyone else is doing and allow some type of special-use permit," Chairman Pat O'Shaughnessy said. "That way, we would have some type of control."

Commissioners will continue their discussion and possibly make recommendations in September. Any recommendations would be sent to the city council for final approval.

Under state law, cultivation centers cannot be within 2,500 feet of residential areas, preschools, elementary schools, secondary schools or daycare facilities. Dispensing sites can't be within 1,000 feet of those same areas or facilities.

Given those restrictions, it's likely that someone looking to establish a cultivation center would look to the Eastgate Industrial Area, on the city's far east side along Lynch Road, said Christopher Milliken, the city's planning and urban services manager. That area is zoned for light-industrial or general-industrial use, and there are a few vacant buildings in those areas.

Milliken said dispensaries might be permissible in a number of locations. They include property zoned for highway-business, general-business, light-industrial and general-industrial use.

"There are pockets here and there," Milliken said, adding they include downtown, near the hospital, the North Vermilion retail corridor, East Voorhees Street and the Eastgate area.

Since lawmakers approved a four-year pilot program, allowing the state to issue a limited number of licenses for medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries, the city has gotten 10 to 20 calls in the last few months. Vermilion Advantage has been contacted by 24 potential investors who are interested in starting a cultivation center.

"We took the position as an organization early on this was not something at this point in time that we were going to pursue as an economic development objective for Vermilion County," Haugen said.

Haugen said her office surveyed nearby companies about the possibility of an operation at a particular site of interest, following one phone call.

"There is no support," she said, pointing out that businesses — from hotels to industry — were concerned about their property depreciating and "what element that would bring to the park."

In addition to safety, Haugen said one of her main concerns is that the industrial park is running out of space.

"This is our prime and only industrial and commercial development area," she said. "We don't want to squander our finite resources."

Haugen said some have asked why officials would be picky about the type of business that would go into the park, especially when there are vacant buildings.

"We don't have to accept just anything," she said. "We want to stay on target."

Thomason said he spoke on behalf of his department and the Vermilion County Sheriff's Department when he expressed fears that the businesses could increase crime. He and Haugen both pointed out that while states are legalizing the growth and distribution of medical marijuana — and some states like Colorado have legalized marijuana outright — the federal government has not.

As a result, banks aren't accepting cash from those businesses' transactions.

"That creates two situations," Thomason said. "You've got the finished product. That's a target (for criminals). Then, how do you move the cash to a secure building? Do you keep it on site? That becomes a second target.

"We recognize we cannot stop it. We, in law enforcement, have to follow the law. But the city has a great responsibility to the community to provide for their safety. We know that drugs are the root of a lot of violence in this community. What sense does it make allowing the precursor of some of this violence to come in?"

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