(New Buffalo, MI) - A public hearing is the next step before a decision is made on whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in New Buffalo. The New Buffalo Planning Commission on January 18 was presented with a proposed zoning map showing where such establishments can operate if the city decides to allow for the sale of marijuana.
City Manager Darwin Watson was asked to schedule a public hearing for the plan commission and city council to receive feedback together on the proposed zoning map before the commission makes a recommendation to the city council.
On Monday, Watson said no date has been chosen yet but the goal is to have the public hearing sometime before the end of February.
The proposed zoning map restricts the sale of marijuana to just a handful of areas in the city. Marijuana dispensaries would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school or church and could not be adjacent to residentially zoned areas. The sale of marijuana would also be prohibited within the city’s central business district.
City Attorney John Weiss suggested removing churches from the distance requirement to avoid opening the door to a potential legal fight. Weiss said religious establishments are not included under state law on what can be protected with a 1,000 foot requirement.
The distance requirement was allowed to remain. Planning Commission Chairman Paul Billingslea, who supports the restriction, said changes could be made later to comply with any legal challenge.
"We can always dial it back,” he said.
Commission member Debbie Schmidt said she also feels strongly in favor of the requirement.
“I don’t have a problem with marijuana being in town. I just want it to be somewhere where it’s not going to be such an issue for some community members,” she said.
“I think the people of New Buffalo have been clear. They do not want marijuana dispensaries next to their churches and I think that’s something the city will make an effort to support,” said Mayor John Humphrey.
Overall, Schmidt said she was satisfied with the proposed regulations.
“The zoning we put together I think is a good balance for the whole community,” she said.
Humphrey said he believes the proposed zoning reflects the wishes of most citizens, who support the sale of marijuana but only in a select number of locations.
“I don’t think there’s an appetite for 15 marijuana dispensaries. I think there’s an appetite for a few,” he said.
One of the locations eligible for a marijuana dispensary under the proposed zoning is the former Pizza Hut site. Humphrey said the property is not within the central business district and is separated from a nearby residential area to the south by U.S 12.
The city council will decide whether to allow for the sale of marijuana once the zoning requirements are in place. Humphrey said a vote on allowing marijuana dispensaries could come, perhaps, in April.