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Normal zoning board endorses permit for 2nd cannabis store

Mandarin Garden
Colin Hardman
The current Mandarin Garden restaurant site would be home to the new cannabis dispensary in Normal, pending town council approval.

Normal’s Zoning Board of Appeals is recommending that a special-use permit be granted to what would be the town’s second cannabis dispensary.

High Haven would be located at 106 Mall Drive, near Veterans Parkway and College Avenue in Normal in the current Mandarin Garden restaurant building.

The four zoning board members present at a meeting on Thursday voted unanimously in support.

High Haven CEO Mahja Sulemanjee said the new business would bring benefits, including increased tax revenue for the town and lower prices.

“I think pricing will drop,” Sulamanjee said in an interview after the board meeting. “Currently, the two operators in town are the same company, so they control the prices, and they decide on what competition, what product, goes out and every piece of it. And when we come into town, what we’ll be able to do is have a healthy competition.”

Desi Anderson
Colin Hardman
Desi Anderson told the Normal Zoning Board of Appeals she has concerns about the increased access to cannabis and higher traffic that a new cannabis dispensary would bring to a commercial area in Normal.

The proposal was polarizing for some people attending the zoning board meeting. Eight regular visitors to the high-traffic commercial area voiced concerns about normalizing cannabis to children and increasing traffic amid a cluster of restaurants and retail stories.

Among these was Desi Anderson, who lost an Illinois Senate race to incumbent Democrat Dave Koehler in November.

“I’m also concerned about the traffic and the congestion that is already currently there. For me, there’s been numerous times where I’ve almost been hit driving in and out, so my number one concern is always safety for the community,” Anderson told the board.

Ben Rediger
Colin Hardman
Ben Rediger spoke in support of a proposed second cannabis dispensary in Normal during a town zoning board of appeals meeting on Thursday.

Five residents spoke in favor of the permit, citing that recreational cannabis has been legal in Illinois for several years. Many liked the idea of a new small business in town, including former teacher Sue Kelly.

“I think for the community it’s just going to offer another choice for people in small businesses. I’m a very strong advocate for small business, and I really support what young people can do,” she said.

While the board did discuss traffic concerns, town planner Mercy Davison pointed out that any successful business at the location would likely have a similar impact.

Several residents raised moral objections to cannabis use, but the zoning board makes decisions based on city code, as zoning board chair Todd Anderson explained.

“We’re really looking at the findings of whether this is something that’s going to fit code, but absolutely those moral decisions and conversations are going to take place (at the town council),” Anderson said.

The town council is expected to decide on the special-use permit at its meeting on Feb. 6.

Colin Hardman is a correspondent at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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