Marijuana matters are moving ahead in East Lansing after the Planning Commission voted last week to recommend that the City Council approve three sets of applications for recreational marijuana retail sales. Council is preparing to take up those applications at its August 11 meeting.
Planning Commission also voted at its July 8 meeting unanimously and without discussion to approve a six-month extension to approvals for the site plan and special use permit for Kodiac Landarc, LLC, for its proposed commercial development at 2040 Merritt Rd. That’s the property that was sold by the City via eBay.
Approval for these kinds of extension requests are generally given by Planning Commission with little or no discussion, so this was no different from usual. What is interesting is that the site shows no significant signs of construction.
Kodiac Landarc’s approved plan for the site includes a medical marijuana provisioning center, a hotel, and strip retail with a drive-through.
In a letter to the city, Kodiac Landarc’s attorney, Benjamin E. Bayram of Fleming Yatooma & Borowicz, argued for the extension by citing the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown as the primary cause of delays. He said the extension of the approvals is needed “so that the Company can complete its buildout.”
But the property at Merritt Rd., just north of Red Cedar Spirits and across Park Lake Rd. from Costco, appears virtually unchanged since the site plan and special use permit (SUP) were approved by Council in August of 2019.
A call to the City’s Building Department the day after the Planning Commission meeting revealed the only permit on file is a Soil Erosion Permit. Issued by the Department of Public Works, this is one of the first permit types necessary in developing a site. It has to do with excavating and grading the site.
The 2040 Merritt Rd. property is the former site of East Lansing’s Department of Public Works. It was contracted for sale by the City to Kodiac Landarc in March 2019 for $1,000,900 after being listed on eBay. The closing happened in September 2019.
Questions were raised about why the City didn’t widely advertise the property to get the highest possible bid. In March of this year, the City Manager provided a report on the matter following support from a 4-1 majority of Council for an accounting of what had happened. (Read about the report in ELi.)
Just after the Council’s approvals for the site plan and SUP last August, Kodiac Landarc put the property on the market for $12 million in an effort to find “investors and non-traditional financiers” in the planned provisioning center and other commercial buildings to be constructed at the site.
Today, a yet-to-be-constructed 7,000-square-foot marijuana provisioning center is listed for sale for $4,995,000 on the 6.42 acre lot. The listing describes it as “part of a development to construct three new buildings,” including the proposed hotel and strip mall which form part of the site plan approved by Council.
The ad states the marijuana provisioning center can be purchased separately “or in conjunction with one or both of the sites mentioned above” and says “This location is arguably the best location in the state given its proximity to the highway, Costco and Michigan State University.”
Bayram’s June 12, 2020, letter to the City only mentions the SUP for the medical marijuana provisioning center. A request to extend the site plan approval for the three structures was absent, so East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator David Haywood flagged this in an email back to Bayram. Bayram corrected his request in order for the extension application to make it on to the meeting agenda.
When reached by phone on July 9, Bayram told ELi that he was “in the middle of his work day” and requested the reporter email him to set up a time to talk. Bayram then did not respond to emails.
Planning Commission recommends three sets of recreational marijuana sales applications
Two site plans and three special use permits for recreational marijuana sales in East Lansing also came before the Planning Commission on July 8.
CA-East Lansing, Inc. is applying for the ability to sell marijuana for recreational adult use at a planned provisioning center at 1234 East Grand River Ave, a former apartment building. This company received site plan and SUP approvals to sell medical marijuana in April 2019, but the operation hasn’t opened yet.
Now the plans include a new look, with the ground-level windows eliminated and the exterior changed in color and general style. The brick would be painted gray. Metal panels and green accents would be added.
At the July 8 meeting, there was a brief discussion about parking calculations for the site. A letter from the Michigan State University chapter of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity (immediately to the west) argued that the building, which they claimed has 7,000-plus square feet of retail space, should have 24 parking spaces. The building has 14 currently and will go to 15.
Haywood explained this is due to redesign to the interior of the building. Part of the second floor will be removed to create a high-ceilinged atrium, leaving only about 4,500 square feet of usable space.
But Commissioner Jack Cahill, who previously opposed the site plan, also raised the issue about parking and ultimately wasn’t satisfied with the situation.
Commissioner Chris Wolf asked about what revenues are ultimately coming back to the city from marijuana retail sales. Ultimately, the City will get a $5,000 annual fee on each retail license issued, medical or recreational. For businesses that sell medical and recreational marijuana out of a single building, that means $10,000 per year for the City.
Under East Lansing law, licensees are also required to make donations — a flat fee of $5,000 or 1 percent of gross sales, whichever is more — to a charity.
And now, with recreational sales legal in Michigan, a portion of the money made from the 15-percent state excise tax on recreational cannabis will be divided proportionally among communities based on the number of retail licenses within a given municipality.
Those economic benefits to East Lansing are one reason some elected officials have supported marijuana businesses operating here.
CA-East Lansing’s application for 1234 East Grand River Ave. was recommended 7-1, with Cahill as the lone no vote.
Green Peak Industries, LLC, doing business as Green Peak Innovations, has applied for an SUP to sell recreationally in addition to already-approved medical sales at their Skymint location at 3315 Coolidge Rd. (That location is not yet open.)
As part of the discussion of this application, Commissioner Cynthia Williams asked about the Michigan Regulatory Agency’s Social Equity Program. Recently, the program has expanded to more cities, with the aim of helping people harmed by the War on Drugs’ prosecutorial approach to reap the profits of legalizing marijuana.
Williams noted Green Peak is one of Michigan’s largest marijuana companies, with around 30 retail locations in the state. In response to Williams’ questions, representative from Green Peak talked about being good community members and cited his personal work at his church and helping people who were affected by the floods in the Midland area.
Williams followed up, asking specifically this time about involvement with the MRA’s Social Equity Program. The applicant seemed unfamiliar with the details of the program.
Planning Commission unanimously recommended Green Peak’s application for adult use sales at Skymint.
The final applicant, RJB Enterprises, LLC, has a tab for social equity on the website for Pleasantrees, the name of that company’s provisioning center at 1950 Merritt Rd. (near Haslett Rd.). This is something Williams noted immediately and asked them to explain.
A representative of the applicant explained what that company sees as the “four pillars” of social equity: Participation, education, legislation, and being a good neighbor.
Participation is interpreted as meaning hiring people who have been impacted by the War on Drugs to work in the company, to benefit financially. RJB Enterprises looks to offer employees the chance to learn more about different jobs within the company to increase opportunity.
“Education” is mostly centered around closing the gap in life skills — for employees, families and communities — that is correlated to incarceration. Legislative action, the company says, includes supporting policy and candidates who will try to undo the damage of the drug war.
Lastly, “Good Neighbor” was defined as helping to address whatever local issue that needs imminent fixing, including anything from food insecurity to protecting the environment.
Williams thanked the applicant for paying such close attention to these issues that have not been at the forefront of East Lansing’s marijuana discussion. The Commission unanimously recommended RJB Enterprise’s application for adult use marijuana sales at its East Lansing Pleasantrees location.
During the discussion, several commissioners praised the aesthetic quality of the Skymint and Pleasantrees centers.
Expect to see these three recreational sale applications come for public hearings and possible decisions at the August 11 meeting of City Council. If you want to write in to Council, use the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.