While there are a dozen marijuana dispensaries in the city of Las Vegas, a proposed store near the upscale community of Summerlin has rattled neighbors and set off a fight over the industry’s emergence into the suburbs.
Residents near the planned 4,800-square-foot dispensary, many who live in nearby master-planned communities, have expressed concern that it will ruin the reputation of the neighborhood, attract seedy individuals and increase overall crime. Plus, opponents say, the site isn’t suitable for a store.
“I oppose the dispensary because it is located in the heart of a suburban area where people are raising their children and families,” resident Kimberly Hughes told the city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday. “I believe to put a dispensary at this location will change the whole tone and character of the neighborhood.”
But city staff have found it to be compatible with existing uses in the area, according to consultant Scot Rutledge, who represents the applicant, Nevada CRT, LLC.
“Based on the staff report, we feel confident that we meet the city’s requirements,” he said.
The Planning Commission agreed. By 4-1 vote, commissioners granted Nevada CRT a special use permit on Tuesday, paving the way for a permit hearing in front of the City Council in February.
Cluster of stores
In the face of vocal opposition — 16 protests were received ahead of the meeting — commissioners framed the debate as a not-in-my-backyard struggle.
“We cannot vote to approve marijuana dispensaries in wards 1, 3 and 5, and say, ‘OK, Ward 2, no we can’t do that,’” Planning Commissioner Donna Toussaint said, although there are no stores in Ward 5.
Toussaint said she voted to green light the special use permit to be consistent with approvals granted for dispensaries elsewhere.
The proposed dispensary would occupy a former pet hospital in a shopping center on the northeast corner of Sahara Avenue and Fort Apache Road, marking the first such store to be approved in Ward 2.
Nine existing dispensaries within city limits are clustered in Ward 3, an urban district east of Interstate 15, according to city data. The other three are in neighboring Ward 1 just to the west. There is a pending dispensary on Rainbow Boulevard in Ward 1 that if established would become the first such store west of Decatur Boulevard.
But the planned dispensary bothering Summerlin neighbors would stretch the western boundary even further, a point not lost on commissioners who worried about dispensaries concentrated in any one area.
“So when people come and say, ‘we only want these in industrial zones,’ what you’re saying is, ‘we condemn the folks that live in Ward 1 and Ward 3 — if you look at it as a burden — to shoulder this burden alone,” Planning Commissioner Jeff Rogan said.
Battle not over
Despite clearing a hurdle Tuesday, Nevada CRT is likely to continue to face the criticism that surfaced during two town halls it held with neighbors prior to Tuesday’s vote. Although Rutledge said he had identified support for the project through canvassing efforts, Planning Commissioner Sigal Chattah cited overwhelming opposition to the plan in her dissenting vote.
Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, who represents Ward 2, pushed back against the proposal Thursday, saying she was disappointed that commissioners who were not part of neighborhood meetings ignored public outcry.
“Those folks were not at the town halls,” Seaman said. “Those folks did not do the due diligence in seeing if the area was harmonious with the community, so they passed it.”
Project opponents argued that the proposed dispensary was too close to elementary schools, a child day care, a synagogue and public library. But city staff found no such locations were within the required project buffer, which is 1,000 feet for schools and 300 feet for other sensitive uses.
“The applicant is committed to being the best possible example for a dispensary,” Rutledge said, adding that they have listened to neighbor concerns.
Beyond considering the special use permit, the council would need to approve a compliance permit and business license before the project is finalized, according to city officials.