Ironwood continues work on commercial marijuana ordinance

IRONWOOD — An Ironwood City Commission workshop fell short on time with a proposed adult-use marijuana manufacturing ordinance on Monday and will schedule another before considering the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance failed three separate city commission votes at its March meeting and was directed back to the planning commission. The city commission had issues with buffer zones restricting marijuana establishments, micro-licenses regarding product testing and certification of edible marijuana products, and the number of retail growers and processors to be allowed in the ordinance.

The workshop covered commercial manufacturing, testing, transportation and retail sales of marijuana products. Time ran out and a second workshop will follow.

“This is a controversial issue that has split the commission,” said Mayor Annette Burchell, who was the deciding vote against the ordinance in March. “Ultimately, I feel a responsibility to our citizenry to make such a big decision.”

Burchell encouraged an ordinance that was more flexible in what types of commercial marijuana sectors would be allowed in the city. A flexible ordinance would allow the commissioners who are against the ordinance to support something in part, while also allowing proponents to give up something for approval of another type of business.

“It (adult-use marijuana) is legal in the state of Michigan and I feel that minimally it’s important to have a couple stores or retail centers so that people can buy products that have been tested and follow all the state guidelines,” Burchell said. “I think that’s the responsible thing for us to do, even though there are a lot of people opposed to it.”

During the workshop, Tom Bergman, director of community development for the city of Ironwood, provided a series of buffer maps that expand the prohibited commercial marijuana establishments as suggested by the commissioners in March. Based on the current commissioners concerns the buffer zone for the downtown core pushes northwest to Ayer Street and west to the Montreal River and includes a 500-foot buffer around the Ironwood Public Library.

Growing operations and processors would be allowed in the city industrial park and industrial zoning districts. The U.S. 2 corridor is a commercial area that would allow marijuana microbusinesses and retail establishments.

The industrial areas in the community include the industrial park but there are also industrial lots in the downtown district, a few adjoining Miners’ Memorial Park and the rural residential areas where there was industrial use in the past, Bergman said. The new buffers expand the prohibited areas in the downtown district, around schools and churches.

“What all these maps are doing for the most part is slowly making smaller permitted areas for the downtown,” Bergman said.

Burchell and Commissioner Jim Mildren were concerned that the commercial corridor along U.S. 2 through Ironwood did not create buffers between residential homes on the highway, or where the commercial zoning would allow a business that is not fronting the highway. Bergman said he would attempt to eliminate the potential conflicts.

“A person’s home is a person’s home, regardless of how it’s zoned by the city,” Burchell said.

The highway frontage map includes entire blocks that are designated commercial in some areas which offers the potential of a marijuana business to open that does not face the highway, she said. That would add a business dimension to a residential neighborhood that is zoned commercial, she said.

“It would change the flavor and environment for the people who own homes and live in the area,” Burchill said.

The people who live in those homes definitely deserve consideration, Mildren said. Instead of an alleyway, picture a line that divides those properties in half to avoid the scenario where a business could face a residential street rather than the highway, he said.

Residential homes along the commercial corridor are legally non-comforming structures that cannot be expanded and would be converted to some sort of commercial use in the long term, Bergman said. The use is residential at present but the zoning is non-comforming commercial.

“In zoning the goal is to have compatible uses next to each other,” Bergman said. “Sometimes there aren’t compatible uses with residential and commercial.”

It is possible to create additional buffers that would allow a business to operate next to a residential home by requiring screening or other types of barriers to minimize impact, he said. That could be worked into the ordinance.

Mildren expressed concern that the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs could not provide someone to attend a city meeting to answer questions. This is not an issue with the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, and the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Jeffrey Barker, an attorney with Barkford Legal in Lansing, listened in on the Zoom meeting and addressed the commissioners in the public commentary portion of the regular meeting.

“It sounds like we’re starting to take some steps back instead of moving forward towards more development in Ironwood,” he said.

The commissioners who are interested in moving forward with an ordinance should speak on the positive aspects of regulated licensure for businesses that will help the city increase development and create tax revenue and safe jobs, he said.

“Participate and talk about the ideas and positive aspects,” Barker said. “Otherwise, the only voices heard are those who are against it or don’t want to move forward.”

The commission will take up the topics of edible cannabis product testing and certification, and the city nuisance ordinance that address issues of odor at the next workshop.

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