Community fights to keep out medical marijuana dispensary

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 21:53:23-05

Members of a Phoenix community are coming together to keep a medical marijuana dispensary out of their neighborhood.

Those living in north central Phoenix say, it's just not the right spot.

The applicant, Thunderbird Partners III, already operates a dispensary in Catalina called the Catalina Hills Botanical Center. The group has submitted paperwork and plans to open up shop at the old Skaggs uniform shop near Central Avenue and Thomas Road, right next to the Arizona Democratic Party headquarters.

Residents say the location is in violation of existing city ordinances.

Under current zoning laws, the City of Phoenix requires marijuana dispensaries to be located in C-2 and C-3 commercial zones or A-1 and A-2 Industrial zones.  They have to be 1,320 feet from places of worship, schools, child care facilities, community centers, homeless shelters, and public parks.  They also have to be 500 feet away from residential zones, and one mile away from any other approved medical marijuana facilities.

In this case city officials agreed with residents, the facility did not fall within the zoning ordinance.  It was less than 500 feet away from an area zoned as residential.

Former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said it was also less than 1,320 feet away from the closest church which was located inside Dignity Hospital.

"They have a separate entrance, posted times of service, I've gone there several times for Rosary and attend many services there," said Gordon.

The north central Phoenix neighborhood association was asking the city to re-consider the location of this dispensary, saying it did not fit in with the character of the area.

"North central Phoenix is in my opinion, one of the last authentic neighborhoods that the city has.  It's rich with history and character, to me it's the best of urban and rural living," said Mary Crozier, the president of the north central Phoenix Home Owners Association.

"Central Avenue has been the heart and soul of the entire city," added Gordon.

The HOA was surprised when despite the zoning officer’s denial, the dispensary got the green light anyway, by the city's Board of Adjustment. It is a group set up by state law, with volunteer members appointed by city councilmembers.  The group has the right to overturn city zoning recommendations, by approving requests for a variance to the ordinance.

"State law sets up the Board of Adjustments.  Their decisions are final unless appealed to the Maricopa County Superior Court," said Alan Stephenson, the Planning and Development Director for the City of Phoenix.

You can read more about the board and how they operate HERE.

Community members say they were not aware that the Board of Adjustment was having a hearing on the dispensary, and that all the facts were not presented to the board.

"If this happens here, then look at your own neighborhood.  That can be granted anywhere.  This will be a precedent.  We don't want to allow that to happen," said Gordon.

The community was trying to raise awareness about the issue by posting signs saying "Don't let Central Avenue go to pot" and by creating this website.

"Its not whether you're for or against medical Marijuana, that's not the issue.  It's let put these facilities in the proper locations," said Crozier.

Gordon said they planned to ask the Board of Adjustment for a re-hearing in this case, if they were not granted that hearing they were ready to fight this battle out in Superior Court.