- Jim Brewer
When it comes to marijuana, Oakmont residents are making themselves abundantly clear: buying it legally may be a really good thing, but buying it here is a really, really bad idea.
Of the more than 35 residents who filled a small hearing room on May 14 for a preliminary permit hearing on a proposed marijuana dispensary in the medical office building at 6575 Oakmont Drive, not one spoke in favor. The Santa Rosa planning department already has received “hundreds of emails,” said Ann Welsh, a principal planner for the department.
During the hour-long, sometimes heated discussion held by the Santa Rosa planning department, speaker after speaker cited problems with traffic, crime and community safety as reasons why planners should turn down the project. They also insisted that planners notify all Oakmont residents of future hearings, rather than just those within 400 feet of the proposed location, as currently required by Santa Rosa city codes.
However, notices were not sent to residents of the Gardens, who are renters—not owners— living immediately adjacent to the proposed dispensary, according to OVA manager Kevin Hubred, who has spoken with Welsh since the hearing. He said the city has received 38 applications for new dispensaries. Residents have now begun circulating a petition to the planning commission opposing the pot store.
Herbal Holistics Inc. wants to use a 1,492 square foot section of the building that formerly housed the OVA offices to sell marijuana products along with smoking paraphernalia such as pipes and vaporizers. The facility plans six employees for the store, which would be open between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. A security guard would be on duty during all operating hours.
“I’m here to tell you that that the Oakmont Board is unified in its opposition,” to the project and any future Cannabis-related business proposals, said board member Heidi Klyn. “Our big concern is traffic. It’s just too dangerous.”
Klyn also pointed out there are proposals for dispensaries in Kenwood, Glenn Ellen and in the area of Montgomery Drive and Summerfield Avenue. Those locations– although in county, not city jurisdiction– would all be convenient for Oakmont customers, she said.
Earlier in the day, the board met to formally oppose the project and authorize members to speak at the evening hearing on behalf of the full board.
The May 14 hearing was just the beginning of what could be a very long process. Called a “pre-application meeting” it is a mandatory part of the permit process to give notice of a proposed business or construction project and to collect community feedback. Once a formal application is made to the Santa Rosa Planning Commission, future hearings will be held. Studies to address community concerns such as increased traffic will likely be required. Any decision by the planning commission can be appealed to the city council. A disputed project can take months — sometimes years — to resolve.
“I will change your minds, “ said Ted Meeker, a youthful former Navy medical corpsman, who spoke for the two men who have leased the office space and want to open the Oakmont dispensary. “I am following the letter of the law. I understand there are issues within the community and I will do my best to address every one of them.” Meeker said Oakmont is an “underserved community” that will benefit from having its own marijuana dispensary.
Here are some of the major concerns that residents said will have to be addressed:
- Traffic— customers entering Oakmont from Highway would be making a U turn at White Oak Drive, clogging traffic flow and increasing the danger to elderly, sometimes handicapped, pedestrians.
- Crime — a dispensary which handles large amounts of cash is what one resident called a “soft target” for robberies at the facility itself and also of customers going into and out of the building.
- Oakmont Community — a commercial operation dedicated to cannabis products would simply be out of place in a senior residential community. There are no similar communities anywhere in the country where dispensaries have been allowed.
- Hearings — future hearings seeking community input should be held in Oakmont. Many residents cannot get to Santa Rosa’s city hall complex, where the May 14 meeting was held.
To comment on the project contact:
Patrick Streeter, Santa Rosa Senior senior Planner firstname.lastname@example.org; 707-543-4323
Ann Welsh, Principal Planner email@example.com; 707-540-0723
David Guhin…. Planning and Economic Dev. Director firstname.lastname@example.org; 707- 543-4299