The Grand Rapids Planning Commission recently denied the first application for a medical marijuana business, belonging to Green Skies - Healing Tree LLC The Grand Rapids Planning Commission recently denied the first application for a medical marijuana business, belonging to Green Skies - Healing Tree LLC COURTESY RENDERING

Grand Rapids Planning Commission considers first medical marijuana applications

BY Friday, May 24, 2019 12:45pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Planning Commission denied the first application for a medical marijuana business that it considered under the city’s new medical marijuana zoning.

The decision provided a clear message to other applicants who will come before the Planning Commission in the coming weeks: Be prepared and follow the rules.

Multiple commissioners noted the many unknowns they faced in voting on the first applicant, Green Skies - Healing Tree LLC, which proposed a provisioning center at 3425 Plainfield Ave. NE.

Andrea Hendrick, spokeswoman for Green Skies, admitted when asked that the Planning Commission might not be adequately prepared to make a decision on the provisioning center, as the company submitted pages of new plans and information the day before the body met on Thursday.

“I wish this would have played out differently,” Hendrick said to the Planning Commission before Green Skies’ application was unanimously denied. “I think there’s things throughout that entire document that would help to give you a better picture of this.”

In its consideration of a second proposal, the Planning Commission approved an application for a special land use permit for a provisioning center at 3510 Mall Drive SE submitted by Greenstone Michigan LLC.

Even before the lottery drawing to determine the order medical marijuana applications would be considered, Battle Creek-based Humble Roots LLC — which submitted 20 applications for provisioning centers in Grand Rapids — was leading the charge against the city’s medical marijuana policies. In a lawsuit filed against the city in April, the company said the policies “expressly and intentionally discriminate against non-resident applicants without any rational basis for doing so.” Humble Roots also claims city staff acted arbitrarily toward non-local applicants in the process.

Executives at Humble Roots also took issue with the Green Skies’ application that the Planning Commission ultimately denied, saying the company did not adequately engage neighbors and has manipulated the system to open a dispensary in an “unethical manner.”

Applicants were drawn at random after being sorted according to how many points they earned in a variety of categories that prioritize local ownership and employment commitments.

Grand Rapids put in place the Marijuana Industry Voluntary Equitable Development Agreement (MIVEDA), allowing locals to have a better chance of being selected in the lottery drawing because it awards points for local residency.

Green Skies’ applications make up half of the first 10 proposals that the Planning Commission will consider for a special land use permit because the company claimed all eight possible MIVEDA points. Hendrick said a local partner for the application was a resident of the Creston neighborhood.

Despite saturating the lottery with the most applications, Humble Roots did not earn enough MIVEDA points to claim top spots in the planning commission’s consideration of applications.

“I feel it’s inherently unfair to us applicants to just check off boxes and completely miss the chance to engage with the community,” said Ben Migdal, co-founder of Humble Roots. “We never claimed to be local.”

At the Planning Commission meeting, Migdal also spoke against Greenstone Michigan’s application based on what he saw as a lack of community engagement. Humble Roots submitted an application for a provisioning center less than 2,000 feet from the location Greenstone proposed.

As well, Humble Roots and the Creston Neighborhood Association asked the Planning Commission to postpone consideration of Green Skies’ application until the company completed its neighborhood engagement around its application to open a provisioning center.

According to a letter from Nick Doblowski, president of the association’s board of directors, Green Skies contacted the association and neighbors at the last minute and the company’s Good Neighbor Plan was “sorely lacking.” Doblowski said the company refused to provide answers about its ownership structure, investors and how it gained 25-percent local ownership, as required for MIVEDA points.

During the Planning Commission meeting, Megan Kruis, executive director of the Creston Neighborhood Association, said the organization had been in touch with multiple entities regarding marijuana businesses. However, Green Skies did not get in touch with the neighborhood association until late April, she said.

“This was very late,” Kruis said. “There was not a sufficient amount of time to be able to handle community engagement the way we like to.”

Some non-local companies found ways to gain MIVEDA points by getting local residents to become part owners of a medical marijuana business. Companies could give multiple local partners a percentage of the company to add up to the 25-percent total needed for MIVEDA, Landon Bartley, senior planner for the city of Grand Rapids, told MiBiz for a previous report.

Even without the preparedness issues with Green Skies, commissioners raised other issues with the transparency of the building based on local and state requirements, parking, traffic and more.

Greenstone Michigan’s application did not have any letters for or against it, although two owners of a nearby car wash spoke in opposition to the location because they did not feel good faith measures were taken to inform neighbors. They also expressed concern that the company’s parking plans were adequate.

In the end, commissioners approved the site, favoring its commercial location.

Companies that wish to operate medical marijuana businesses in Grand Rapids are still eligible after the lottery for special land use consideration on a first-come, first-served basis.

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