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Bloomington Hears Support, Opposition to Cannabis Businesses

Council meeting
Joe Deacon
Mayor Tari Renner, left, and Council member Jenn Carrillo listen as resident R.J. McCracken urges support for allowing recreational cannabis businesses during Monday's Bloomington City Council meeting.

The legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis remains such a hot-button issue that even a procedural step generated plenty of discussion at Monday’s Bloomington City Council meeting.

Before the council approved a measure to initiate the zoning amendment process aimed at regulating where marijuana businesses can locate, Father Dave Halt’s public comments urged council members to slow down.

“We do not know enough about whether or not this business is a right fit for our city,” said Halt, later adding “there’s nothing lost with taking time and doing it right.”

"Why would we turn away the money that we could actually use to help our community?"

But resident R.J. McCracken said there’s no reason to delay potential tax benefits once the state law permitting recreational cannabis goes into effect Jan. 1.

“It’s going to be legal here, no matter what we do,” said McCracken. “So why would we turn away the money that we could actually use to help our community?”

The agenda item approved Monday did not bind the city to opting in or out of allowing marijuana businesses but still produced a 45-minute discussion during the 2½-hour public portion of the meeting, with council member Scott Black calling cannabis “everybody’s favorite topic.”

Draft Ordinance

City attorney Jeff Jurgens presented a draft of an amendment that will go before the planning commission, with a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 13 ahead of possible council action in December.

The text, built off the Illinois Municipal League’s model ordinance, states that cannabis businesses would require special-use permission and prohibit them from locating within 500 feet of schools, churches and playgrounds and 250 feet of residential areas, although those distances may be increased. On-site consumption would also be prohibited, a stipulation many council members seemed to favor.

While the state law identifies six types of cannabis businesses, council member Kim Bray suggested limiting the scope of possible zoning amendments to just two types – although her motion to amend the resolution failed.

“We’re looking at asking our planning commission to take on a whole list of things that I’m not sure at this juncture that this body has an appetite to jump in to all these businesses,” said Bray, who was joined by Donna Boelen in voting against the measure.

The 30 minutes of public comments continued to show divided opinion on allowing cannabis businesses, with three speakers opposed and three in favor. Addiction specialist Deb Carter, who served on the city’s cannabis task force, said she personally advocates for abstinence but admitted that doesn’t work for everyone.

“In my anecdotal opinion and in what I’ve witnessed in my 25 years in addiction is about 30-40% of our Bloomington adult residents use cannabis right now,” said Carter.

“I believe in allowing and regulating recreational dispensaries in Bloomington-Normal. This gives us power, and I urge the council to be proactive and think about this seriously.”

The council will still need to determine how much it wants tax cannabis sales, with the state law allowing local governments to charge up to 3%.

“There are things we can do with that money and earmark it so that it benefits our community in a way that everyone can get on board with it,” said McCracken. “It doesn't have to be an alienating issue that makes all of us hate each other or makes people outraged because reefer madness is going to take over our town. It's not.”

But Halt cautioned against a “headlong rush into the cannabis business,” adding that adopting a pro-marijuana stance may be the wrong decision.

“We have one chance to get it right,” he said. “If we get it wrong, our entire community will pay.”

Pizza Restaurant

In other action, the council voted unanimously to approve a site plan for a proposed restaurant on the northeast corner of the intersection of Clinton and Washington streets, although some council members voiced concerns over the name of the business.

Earlier this month, the planning commission gave Lulu’s Pizza and Gaming a positive recommendation to build on the site of the former Mr. Quick Restaurant. Carmala LLC operates two other Lulu’s Pizza and Gaming locations in Decatur and Champaign.

“This design is treading dangerously close to the gaming parlor model that this council has repeatedly said it does not want to have anywhere in Bloomington,” said council member Jamie Mathy. “We have restaurants and we have bars that happen to have gaming in them, but advertising that your facility is called ‘pizza and gaming’ is pushing the envelope a lot further than most of us are comfortable with.”

Mayor Tari Renner noted that the liquor commission has no authority to deny a license based on the name of a business as long as less than 50% of its revenue comes from gaming.

Other Business

Additional actions approved unanimously include:

  • A special-use permit allowing an axe-throwing sports and fitness establishment in the downtown district. Axe Social intends to open in a vacant warehouse at 216 E. Grove Street.
  • A $49,800 agreement with The Lakota Group to develop a Community Preservation Plan. City manager Tim Gleason said $30,000 will come from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. City planner Katie Simpson said the city’s current preservation plan was adopted in 1983.
  • An intergovernmental agreement with the Department of Health and Family Services to participate in a federal program aimed to help the fire department recoup Medicaid payments for ambulance rides.
  • An amended fixed asset budget of $98,000 for the Bloomington Public Library.
  • And a restaurant patio and parking lot site plan for Lil’ Beaver Brewery at 5 Finance Drive.

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