The East Lansing City Council approved the Merritt Road Dispensary Project, agreed to settle a long-standing settlement and sent recreational marijuana business regulations to the planning commission at its Aug. 13 meeting.
Merritt Road dispensary and hotel approved
Council members approved the project on the former public works site. This includes three buildings — one for a hotel, one for a marijuana dispensary and one for retail strip divided into five suites, including a drive through.
City Manager George Lahanas explained the history behind the site, responding to criticism of transparency surrounding the property’s marketing.
Lahanas said the city obtained the ability to sell the property after East Lansing residents voted for it in 2002.
“It’s been available for over 16 years with various efforts to sell it,” Lahanas said.
In 2016, the city approved a sale to an interested party who walked away after finding the site required about $3.5 million in environmental cleanup.
In 2018, there were interested parties wanting to develop the whole site for the purpose of a medical marijuana dispensary.
Lahanas said people approached the city at that point and the eBay auction was a cost-efficient way to handle the offers they were given.
“The clean-up costs that are necessary to construct this project — which I believe are pretty substantial — are costs that are going to be borne by the purchaser of the property,” Mayor Mark Meadows said.
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann said, “We have a really good outcome here for the taxpayers.”
He said turning criticisms of the property sale into a political football does a disservice to the work that went into it.
Recreational dispensary regulations in the pipeline
The city sent a draft ordinance to the planning commission that regulates recreational marijuana establishments similar to medical ones.
"The only distinction is that in order to obtain a retailer’s license (is) you must also be licensed as a medical marijuana provisioning center," City Attorney Tom Yeadon said in a statement.
The ordinance was drafted in response to emergency rules released by the state government in July.
The rules also create regulations for social use, including smoking lounges, festivals and home delivery, which is not specifically addressed in the draft ordinance.
Yeadon recommended any additional regulations be in place before Nov. 1, 2019, when the state begins issuing recreational dispensary licenses.
Billboard lawsuit settled
The city settled a lawsuit with Adams Outdoor, which allows billboards in the city of East Lansing, but not downtown.
The dispute was about the definition of “limited access highway,” which isn’t defined in statute, but is in the settlement agreement.
Michigan Highway 78, U.S. 127 and Interstate 69 are explicitly defined as limited access highways for the purpose of allowing billboards under the settlement.
If there is an amendment that allows billboards downtown, Adam Outdoor gets the first right to placement.
Meadows said litigation with Adams Outdoor has happened many times over the years, keeping the city attorney’s office busy for almost three decades.
“This is an excellent result in my opinion,” Meadows said.