A proposal for a joint medical marijuana dispensary/growing facility on a south Lawton arterial prompted questions last week about how the city should be viewing such facilities and if additional regulations are needed.
The original proposal to the City Planning Commission — which commissioners ultimately recommended to the City Council — was for a Use Permitted on Review (UPOR) that would allow a medical marijuana growing facility to operate in conjunction with a dispensary at 201 W. Lee Boulevard. The site, now a used car lot and formerly a fast food restaurant, is zoned C-5 General Commercial District, the least restrictive commercial zoning and one that allows a dispensary to operate. City code considers dispensaries — where marijuana products are sold to those holding state-issued patient licenses — equivalent to pharmacies, meaning they can existing in commercial areas.
What prompted the UPOR request is the marijuana growing facility. City code allows growing and processing facilities to be placed with dispensaries in C-5-zoned sites adjacent to arterials, the council’s way to encourage development of empty structures along arterials.
What makes this request unique is that there are no immediate plans to place a medical marijuana growing/dispensary facility on the site. That means city planners can’t answer the questions that CPC members normally pose for rezoning applications.
“He (the applicant) has been approached by people who want to use it as one,” Planner Debbie Dollarhite said, adding property owner David Van Hoozer wants to get the proper zoning in place, in case someone does want to buy the site for that use.
Van Hoozer said he isn’t certain about the sale, but he wants that option and needs the UPOR on the property.
Commissioner Deborah Jones, a former city planner, asked about the percentage of space in the 3,000-square-foot building that will be dedicated to each use, security measures, and the number of employees. Dollarhite said the city staff can’t answer those questions.
Van Hoozer said he has been approached by out-of-state buyers who are interested in the property, but won’t go any further until the proper UPOR documentation is in place to allow a growing facility. He also said the facility would have security because it is a high-profit business.
His comments also prompted questions from commissioners, including one from Chairman David Denham about whether out-of-state residents can own a medical marijuana facility in Oklahoma. State law specifies that those who operate medical marijuana businesses must be Oklahomans, or, if multiple owners, the majority must be state residents.
Community Services Director Richard Rogalski, noting this is the first time the city has had a rezoning for medical marijuana businesses without an actual business being specified, said the UPOR includes a requirement for a binding site plan, meaning the plan must identify what will go there. Any significant deviation from an approved plan must be brought back to the city for approval.
While the binding site plan specifies a use as a dispensary with an associated growing facility, “our code does not require a minimum dispensary size,” Rogalski said. That means there is no requirement that the dispensary (a less intensive use) must constitute a certain percentage of the building to be used, Jones said.
Jones had another concern: what she called speculative zoning, something she said violates Lawton’s Land Use Plan provisions. Jones said she is concerned that, unlike other marijuana-related requests the commission has fielded, members have no way to address concerns about security measures, smells, discharge and stormwater. She said while the request is for a legitimate use, there is no applicant to question.
“I think we make a mistake when we start speculative zoning, speculative UPOR,” said Jones, who was one of two “no” votes against the proposal that ultimately will be decided by the council.
Rogalski said a UPOR simply adds another use to the list of permitted uses for a specific zoning classification. All other uses permitted in C-5 areas, to include a used car lot and restaurants, will continue to be legal. He said those around the site are protected by regulations that people/firms must follow to obtain state licenses.
City code wasn’t the only concern expressed.
Ron Harris, who owns residential property to the north, said he already has a difficult time renting his house, and smells from the growing facility will make that harder. While commissioners said state regulations prevent odors from leaving facilities, Harris said that isn’t accurate, adding “you can still smell it (a growing facility)” if you are within 300 feet, and his house is.