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Normal council rejects plan for 2nd cannabis dispensary; OKs Infiniti Pointe subdivision plan

A public commenter addresses the Normal Town Council on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, at its meeting in Uptown Station.
Michele Steinbacher
A public commenter addresses the Normal Town Council on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, at its meeting in Uptown Station.

The Normal Town Council on Monday night rejected a proposal to open a cannabis dispensary near College Avenue and Veterans Parkway, with a consensus forming among council members to revisit regulations about such operations.

But Monday’s 6-1 vote does not close the door on Glenview-based High Haven Dispensary, according to Normal Mayor Chris Koos.

“I see it as more of a ‘let’s step back’ — instead of a ‘no’ vote,” he said, adding he hopes the business still will find a new location in Normal.

Council member Chemberly Harris was the only "yes" vote.

Had the special-use permit been granted, High Haven would have become the town’s second adult-use cannabis shop. Last month, the town's zoning board unanimously approved recommending the permit.

Also at Monday’s meeting, which stretched nearly 3 1/2 hours, the council approved plans for Infiniti Pointe, a new subdivision in west Normal; OK’d spending more than $2 million on two water main replacement projects; and approved renovations at the Normal Police Department.

Council to reevaluate cannabis ordinance

Monday’s meeting drew nearly 20 public comments, mostly pertaining to the High Haven vote.

Several people argued the dangers of marijuana use — legal or otherwise — while others voiced support for access to cannabis. One speaker encouraged Normal to issue the special use permit to High Haven, especially because it was a minority-owned, women-led endeavor.

Most council members said it wasn't the local government's job to rehash what the state already had legalized.

But a key point of contention was the busy location — near The Shoppes at College Hills. The spot meets zoning requirements. The plan called for the dispensary to set up in what up until now has been Mandarin House Gardens Chinese restaurant at 106 Mall Drive.

Mahja Sulemanjee, founder of High Haven Dispensary, addresses the Normal Town Council on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

Traffic congestion and family-friendly stores nearby gave some Normal leaders pause. Still, others found themselves wondering why High Haven faced scrutiny over high traffic when any other potential business wouldn't.

Council members began to ask whether the 2019 ordinance is being executed fairly, and keeping the best needs of the community in mind. Koos said he sensed a lot of disagreement on how the council should interpret the code.

High Haven officials said they needed to have the permit by next month, or they'd need to extend the application process for a state license.

"I'm sorry for High Haven, that the state has put such at tight timeline on them to get something done," but the council needs to think through its zoning process, especially for special-use permits, said Koos.

The council likely will hold a work session to address these "unintended consequences" of drafting the ordinance in response to the new state law.

“We need to get this right, for all the parties involved, as much as we can,” said Koos.

Mahja Sulemanjee, High Haven founder, called the council's decision disheartening. The business might look for another location in town, but she's not sure, she said.

"As a brown CEO, and a social equity applicant, we've gone through a lot of hurdles to get where we are, and this won't stop us," she said.

After the meeting Monday, council member Harris noted “It’s very difficult to get an equity license," and said that lent credibility to the business.

The state assigns regions for cannabis dispensary license holders. Normal is part of that area for High Haven.

Normal’s first cannabis dispensary, now called Beyond/Hello, opened in 2015 in north Normal. Recreational cannabis for adults has been legal in Illinois since 2020.

Beyond/Hello also operates a location in Bloomington, near Veterans Parkway. Last year, Bloomington officials approved another dispensary on the city’s far west side, but it has yet to open.

Granting High Haven a special-use permit would have meant competition for the two Jushi Holdings-owned Beyond/Hello spots in Bloomington and Normal, said Sulemanjee. She called the council's vote a loss for Normal.

Infiniti Pointe helps housing shortage

The council unanimously approved a preliminary site plan for the Infiniti Pointe subdivision at the northwest corner of Parkside Road and West Hovey Avenue.

The proposed Infiniti Pointe subdivision would be located just northwest of the intersection of Parkside Road and Hovey Avenue. The interstate would be to its west.
Google Earth
The proposed Infiniti Pointe subdivision would be located just northwest of the intersection of Parkside Road and Hovey Avenue. The interstate would be to its west.

The development will bring a housing mix of apartments, duplexes and single-family homes. “Quite the mix,” said Normal City Manager Pam Reece.

Just before that vote, the council also OK’d the town annexing the 72-acre site, a related annexation agreement, and rezoned the agricultural property to residential.

This fits Normal’s comprehensive plan, in offering a variety of housing options within one neighborhood, said council member Scott Preston.

Infiniti Pointe joins several other developments that local governments have OK’d on the heels of a report detailing an housing shortage in the Twin Cities.

Lead developer Krishna Balakrishnan of Bloomington has said because it’s infill development, it's easier to build out the needed infrastructure.

Town leaders said it also supports the comprehensive plan, and stretches the community westward.

“It is a benefit for our community to have more housing units available, in more diverse styles, in proximity to one another,” said Mercy Davison, Normal town planner.

The developer agreed to change its original concept and close Tewkesbury and Colchester streets, instead of using those to connect with the existing neighborhood. Several council members, including Preston and Stan Nord, said they appreciated that feedback, and response.

A few public commenters shared concerns about traffic increasing with the additional homes, and especially with multi-family complexes being part of the development.

More than $2M for water main replacements

Normal-based Stark Excavating will manage a pair of water main projects for Normal, valued at more than $2 million, after the council OK’d the contracts Monday.

This outline shows where Normal plans to change connection points for its water mains along Kingsley Street.
Town of Normal
This outline shows where Normal plans to change connection points for its water mains along Kingsley Street.

The new water mains, valves, hydrants and services already are part of the 2023-24 budget.

  • The first project, set to begin in June and wrap up before the year’s end, addresses several streets west of Main Street. Stark’s $862,000 bid was the lowest of three, coming in 10% under the engineer’s estimate.
  • The second is slated for spring-to-fall 2024. New mains will go under Grandview Drive — from Spear Drive down to Jersey Avenue. For this project, Stark’s nearly $1.3 million bid was the lowest of four, coming in almost 40% under the engineer’s estimate.

This summer’s work is in a neighborhood not far from Oakdale Elementary School. Mains will be replaced under Apple Street, from Madison to Main streets; and on Morgan Street, from Livingston Drive to Adelaide Street, and on Livingston Drive.
In addition, the contractor will replace Kingsley Street water main connections from College Avenue to Hovey Avenue.

IDOT Veterans Parkway project set for summer

The council also OK’d an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), connected to Veterans Parkway surface upgrades. The vote authorized Normal to spend up to $33,925 for traffic signal-related costs.

Expected to begin this summer, the state-funded resurfacing on Veterans will stretch from north of Shepard Road in Normal south to Clearwater Avenue in Bloomington.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved spending about $90,000 for updates to the Normal Police Department, 100 E. Phoenix St. Normal-based J Spencer Construction was the lowest of two bidders. The contractor will replace high-traffic area flooring, and update the NPD lobby and family meeting spaces.
  • OK’d a special use permit for Zeta Tau Alpha sorority to demolish its building in the 400 block of North School Street, and rebuild there. The Illinois State University sorority has used the property as a boarding house for nearly 50 years.
  • Heard council member Karyn Smith ask town staff to research whether next year’s budget could handle the elimination of the vehicle use tax.  She said she’s proposing the tax cut, based on surpluses the town’s realized, thanks to low unemployment and high consumer spending.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.