New Buffalo Township Approves Controversial Marijuana Retail Permit

December 21st, 2023 Business & Industry
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During its December 18th meeting, the New Buffalo Township Board approved a preliminary special land use permit for Mint New Buffalo LLC. This permit allows the company to operate an adult-use marijuana retail establishment at 18300 U.S. 12. This decision comes despite opposition from the Township Planning Commission, which had recently voted against the request.

Michelle Heit, New Buffalo Township Supervisor, clarified that the Planning Commission's role is advisory and that the Township Board holds the final decision-making power. She emphasized that the application adheres to the local ordinance, which states, "A facility or establishment may not be on a parcel that abuts R-1, R-2, Ag, R, or MR zoning districts within the township." According to Heit, the Mint application met these standards, as the parcel in question does not directly abut a zoning district, being separated by a state highway.

New Buffalo Mayor John Humphrey, during the public comment section, raised concerns on behalf of city residents. He questioned the process, citing the Michigan Planning Enabling Act, which requires a second meeting if the Planning Commission's decision is appealed – a meeting that had not occurred. He also highlighted the zoning ordinance's discretion for the Planning Commission to issue special use permits and a clause prohibiting provisioning centers within 150 feet of residential dwellings, unless waived.

Several advocates spoke in favor of Mint's application. Barrett Young, representing Mint, reiterated the ordinance's language, stating it specifically pertains to the township. Omar Fakhouri, speaking for Mint, argued that the 150-foot buffer requirement had been met, referencing building-to-building measurement rather than parcel-to-parcel.

Opposition also surfaced. Cynthia Marquard, a resident whose property backs up to the proposed dispensary site, expressed her reluctance to have a dispensary nearby, citing the inappropriateness raised in the first meeting.

The Board also granted preliminary approval for other adult-use marijuana retail establishments, including J Elias Management/Puff, Accelerate Green/High Society, Weber Family Ventures, Simple AG New Buffalo/Supergood, and Michigan Pure Green.

In a related matter, the Board accepted the resignation of Clerk Judy Zabicki, effective January 1, 2024. Michelle Heit acknowledged Zabicki's contributions over her nearly 11-year tenure. Michelle Hannon was appointed as interim clerk, and Julie Flick as deputy clerk.

Mayor Humphrey, in a separate City Council meeting, argued that New Buffalo residents were denied due process in the approval of Mint's permit, stressing that the Township Board should be held accountable. He urged the City Council to consult attorneys before taking further action.

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