MUSKEGON, MI — “Confusion” over who owns, or will own, a lot on on Apple Avenue has resulted in the property being removed from consideration for recreational marijuana businesses, at least for now.
The property at 885 E. Apple Ave. had been included in a list of eight properties the Muskegon City Commission considered for inclusion in the city’s marijuana district.
The other seven properties have been approved, but the lot at 885 E. Apple Ave. was rejected by city commissioners last week on a 5-2 vote. That was after it was revealed the property did not have a Black owner, as some commissioners believed, and there may be “legal issues” involved in a pending sale.
City staff had recommended approving the site for marijuana retail sales and microbusiness, which is retail sales of cannabis grown on site.
Its address – as well as that of property at 863 E. Apple Ave. — was listed incorrectly when a public hearing was held on the required zoning amendment. That meant the hearing had to be held again, followed by a vote on Sept. 22, when only the 863 Apple property was approved.
The properties were among several others that were added to the city’s marijuana “overlay” district that previously encompassed only an area near Peck Street and Laketon Avenue where the city’s existing dispensaries are located.
The stated idea for the expansion was to make marijuana sales more accessible and to give Black-owned businesses an opportunity to get involved in the cannabis industry.
Donald Shampine of Grand Haven identified himself at the beginning of the Sept. 22 meeting as the owner of the property at 885 E. Apple Ave. Shampine, who is white, told commissioners he had a purchase agreement from the property through a letter of intent pending the city commission’s approval of the zoning change.
He went on to say he had had a “noncompliant tenant” on the property whose actions, such as not mowing the grass or getting utilities to the property, resulted in the city taking him to court under the erroneous belief the property was vacant.
Also addressing the commission at the start of the meeting were supporters of Connie Maxim Sparrow, who they said was interested in establishing a marijuana business at 885 E. Apple. Sparrow also is white.
In the end, city commissioners, citing “confusion” and a possible legal challenge regarding the property ownership and sale, dropped 885 E. Apple from consideration. Mayor Steve Gawron and Commissioner Dan Rinsema-Sybenga were in the minority voting to go ahead with the marijuana rezoning.
“We didn’t want to make it an option to flip the property,” said Vice Mayor Eric Hood. “We didn’t want the owner to be in this district and just flip the property to whoever to make two or three times what the property is worth.”
Rather, Hood said, he was interested in “trying to give African Americans a foot in the door in this business.”
Some commissioners expressed unhappiness with how properties were chosen for the expanded marijuana districts, with Commissioner Ken Johnson calling the process inappropriate “spot zoning” and Commissioner Michael Ramsey saying it was “inadequate at best” in addressing social equity in the cannabis industry.
Ramsey also noted that the Muskegon planning commission had rejected the new marijuana areas. At the time the planning commission considered, and turned down, the rezoning, staff had recommended 16 properties – including some downtown and in the Lakeside business district – for marijuana businesses.
City staff noted they had not spoken to all owners of property they had identified for marijuana business zoning, and that just because the property is zoned as such, there is no obligation for owners to use it in that manner.
Also approved for marijuana businesses are properties at 796 E. Apple Ave., 981 S. Getty St. and 935 S. Getty St., where retail sales will be allowed, and marijuana microbusinesses at 639 W. Clay Ave., 623 W. Clay Ave. and at the Watermark Center, 920 Washington Ave.
Previously, marijuana businesses only were allowed in two districts: a square bordered by Seaway Drive, Young Avenue, Park Street and West Hackley Avenue; and an area roughly bordered by Laketon Avenue, Park Street, Keating Avenue, Holbrook Avenue and a line just east of Peck Street.
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