Lake County Board to Vote Wednesday to Allow Cannabis Businesses in Gilmer, Sylvan Lake and Other Unincorporated Areas

WAUKEGAN, Ill. — The Lake County Public Works, Planning, and Transportation (PWPT) Committee voted 6-to-1 on May 5 to approve ordinance amendments that would permit and regulate adult-use cannabis businesses in unincorporated Lake County, which includes nearby Gilmer and Sylvan Lake. Linda Pedersen, committee vice chair, was the sole dissenting vote.

The unincorporated areas, after review and amendments by multiple governing bodies, as well as hearings from the public, is expected to be approved at the Lake County Board meeting on Tuesday, May 11.

Only a dozen or so parcels exist that could accommodate recreational marijuana dispensaries, which are one category of adult-use cannabis businesses that could open in unincorporated Lake County after the measure passes.

“As a reminder of how we got to this point, on April 21, [2021], the Lake County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously to approve the proposed text amendments to the code relating to adult-use cannabis business zoning regulations. Last week, on Wednesday, [April 28] the Public Works, Planning and Transportation Committee discussed the ZBA recommendations and provided some additional [changes],” Waggoner continued.

The Lake County Public Works, Planning and Transportation Committee voted 6-1 on May 5 to send amended ordinances to the Lake County Board for approval. The amended ordinances, if approved, will allow recreational cannabis businesses in unincorporated Lake County.

The sole dissenter, Vice Chair Linda Pedersen, voted “no,” and stated, “You’ve got about 25 municipalities that have voted to have cannabis in their municipalities. If I look at the map that staff has given us, they’re very evenly distributed throughout the county: north, south, east west, and central Lake County.”

“And that’s going to be possibly 25 dispensaries or more in the county, which I personally think is more than enough. I just don’t understand why we would want more than that,” she stated.

“I know this is all about the money. You can talk to me until you’re blue in the face. I know it’s about the money. It’s not about offering marijuana to the residents,” Pedersen continued.

“And I think what really bothers me, more than anything, is when we asked for this year moratorium, we wanted to look at all sides of this, and we were going to have the health department involved. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 we were not able to do that. We’re not talking about any side effects or health issues from marijuana. We’re just talking about how many dispensaries can we fit into Lake County,” she said.

The moratorium Pedersen referred to was a one-year stay on making a decision allowing adult-use cannabis businesses in unincorporated Lake County, after recreational marijuana was made legal state-wide, effective January 1, 2020.

Pedersen expressed concerns regarding the high potency of THC in today’s marketed marijuana, a strength, according to Pedersen, about 10 times greater than what it was in the 90s. She also took issue with marijuana edibles allegedly having extremely high amounts of THC.

Pedersen represents the areas of Antioch, Old Mill Creek, and portions of Fox Lake and Lake Villa.

There were two additional public comments also opposing the approval of the motion that would allow adult-use cannabis businesses, including craft growers, infusers, processors, cultivation centers, transporters, and dispensaries, to operate in unincorporated Lake County.

Opposition was based on buffer zones that were opined to be too small in distance away from residential zones and the potential impacts of having cannabis businesses operating near community youth.

Those comments came somewhat late in the game after two separate public hearing sessions of the Lake County Zoning Board of Appeals were held in April that allowed for approximately 30 public written and verbal comments, as well as additional comments from last week’s PWPT committee meeting.

“We feel the amount of effort that was put into this process; widely publicizing it, gathering public feedback, was transparent, inclusive, and very consistent. We had multiple rounds of outreach to the public concerning this,” said Waggoner.

At the direction of the Lake County Board, the Lake County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) conducted public hearings on April 19 and April 21, 2021, to consider proposed text amendments to allow adult-use cannabis businesses in the unincorporated area subject to restrictions. The ZBA unanimously recommended approval, with modifications, of the proposed text amendments to the motion to approve the ordinance as shown here.

The combined recommended amendments have been formatted into a consolidated document ready for codification, as reflected here. The Ordinance is expected to pass next week.

Committee Recommendations

The PWPT committee’s recommended changes included the following:

— Permitting transporters by conditional use permit (CUP) in the general commercial zoning district. The draft previously allowed this use category only in the industrial zones by right. Permissions by conditional use permit carry higher requirements for meeting standards than “by right” permissions.

— Permitting certain production uses (i.e., infusers, processors, and craft growers) by right in the limited industrial and intensive industrial zoning districts (the draft previously allowed these uses only by CUP in the industrial zones). There are only nominal differences between businesses zoned limited industrial and intensive industrial, stated Waggoner at last week’s PWPT meeting.

— Requiring that the review process for such production uses include a public information meeting. Waggoner said before the PWPT’s vote last night, “I will be sending out some information between now and the [Lake County] Board meeting about the public notice requirement. So that’s something the board can think about in advance of the [Lake County] board meeting.”

— Further requiring that the review process for such production uses must provide for the Lake County Planning, Building & Development Department authority to impose additional reasonable conditions on such uses.

— Incorporating commentary encouraging sustainable site and construction practices in the context of craft growers, infusers, processors, and cultivation centers for a minimal carbon footprint.

— Incorporating an exception to the forest preserve sensitive use buffer when the relevant portion of the Forest Preserve property contains inaccessible natural resources (i.e., wetlands, unnavigable waterways) that would practically preclude the public’s use of such portion for potential sites of adult-use cannabis businesses.

That last amendment was proposed after a resident complained that the buffering zones for adult-use cannabis businesses used “forest preserve” areas as a blanket term and did not differentiate between usable and non-usable areas of forest preserve, i.e., those accessible to the public and not accessible to the public.

The Lake County Board will meet on Wednesday, May 11, 2021, to make a final decision on the matter.

Recreational marijuana was legalized in 2019 for individuals aged 21 and over. The new law took effect on January 1, 2020. 

More Information

A full packet of the ordinance and proposed text amendments, color-coded by which governing body made them, can be found here.

An abridged list of all public and written comments on the matter can be accessed here.

For more information on Lake County’s proposal to permit adult-use cannabis businesses, click here.

By Daniel J. Cameron

Daniel Cameron is a professional freelance writer/editor/proofreader originally from Detroit. He has written news, marketing/advertising, and general business writing, and SEO for 15 years since college, where he majored in professional writing. He is happy to write for the Local Newsreader and can be contacted at danieljcameron@gmail.com.

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