Fremont Drive cannabis dispensary gets BZA OK

John Loe has now received county approval to open two dispensaries in Sonoma Valley.|

The business owner who received approval to open a cannabis dispensary on Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen despite community objections is planning to open a second dispensary on Fremont Drive in Sonoma.

An application to open a dispensary submitted by John Lobro (now known as John Loe) of Sevenfold, Inc. with a listed address of 27 Fremont Drive in Sonoma was approved at the Sonoma County Board of Adjustments (BZA) meeting on March 24. The appeal period for the dispensary ended on April 4, with no appeals made.

Loe plans to open a retail storefront and delivery service that operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday in an existing 1,328-square-foot commercial building at 15 Fremont Drive. The building has an adjacent restroom and up to 3,223 sq. ft. of additional space for storage and offices in up to six other existing structures on a 5.09-acre parcel.

Loe also intends to open a cannabis facility, Loe Firehouse Cannabis Dispensary, at 15499 Arnold Drive at the intersection of Madrone Road in Glen Ellen. It will be on a one-third-acre parcel that once housed a fire station and will include 1,891 square feet of retail and employee use areas.

After Loe’s applications for the two dispensaries were approved, he needed to satisfy the county’s conditions of compliance to begin operating. He has done so and indicated that he hopes to open Lowe Firehouse Cannabis Dispensary by the second quarter of this year.

He applied to open this retail cannabis dispensary in 2017, listing his business as Lowe Firehouse, 708 Gravenstein Highway N. in Sebastopol. That application was approved by the BZA in April 2021, but the Protect Our Sonoma Valley Family Neighborhoods nonprofit group immediately filed an appeal. Public comment at the appeal hearing was about evenly divided, with some supporters praising the convenience of the location and the service it will provide and others warning of possible increased violence and exposure of minors to cannabis products.

On Nov. 1, the nonprofit group filed a petition to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to halt the project, claiming that Sonoma County officials were not abiding by some zoning restrictions related to the number of parking spaces, traffic and setback requirements.

The neighborhood group also called for an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act, saying that issues such as “traffic, pedestrian safety and inconsistency with area plans” require the county to conduct an EIR to analyze environmental impacts and identify feasible mitigations and alternatives.

“All use permits are subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA],” said Bradley Dunn, policy manager for Permit Sonoma. “While a categorical exemption may be applied to a project in some cases, both of the approved dispensary permits went through the CEQA process with either a negative declaration or a mitigated negative declaration.”

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors denied the appeal by Protect Our Sonoma Valley Family Neighborhoods.

“I voted to deny the appeal and support the application, as it is located at the intersection of two busy streets and seems to pose little impact on the adjacent neighborhoods,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who serves the first district, where the dispensary will be located. “It has been my observation and during tours of dispensaries I have found that well-run dispensaries have little impacts on neighborhoods. Traffic is generally not overwhelming and the county requirements for minimal signing, parking and security help to alleviate concerns.”

Meanwhile, David Scott’s application to open a cannabis dispensary at 8910 Highway 12 in the Kenwood Village Shopping Center is still in process. In January 2020, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission approved his application for a conditional use permit to open Sonoma’s Finest in a vacant space in the shopping center. Commissioners’ recommendations are nonbinding but are considered by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Nine applications have been received to open cannabis dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. A county ordinance allows only nine applications to be accepted, so no new applications for dispensaries can be submitted.

The county issues five-year permits to cannabis dispensaries that are renewable subject to meeting some conditions, including a review of any public comments and nuisance complaints.

The Sonoma City Council has also authorized two cannabis dispensaries to open within city limits. Sonoma SPARC San Francisco Patient and Resource Center is scheduled to be launched at 19315 Sonoma Highway on April 20 if occupancy and business permits are obtained. The Sonoma City Council has indicated that applications for the second dispensary will not be accepted until data becomes available regarding SPARC’s retail sales and its ability to provide community benefits.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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