Glen Ellen neighbors again attempt to halt Loe Firehouse Dispensary

After their appeal was denied in September, Protect Our Sonoma Valley Family Neighborhoods is back with similar concerns.|

A petition filed against the county by a local neighborhood group hopes to halt an approved proposed cannabis dispensary in Glen Ellen. It alleges the county failed to comply with its own municipal ordinance and guidelines.

“The group feels strongly that the Board of Supervisors has an obligation to protect Sonoma Valley residents by enforcing their published zoning codes and traffic guidelines regarding cannabis facilities within a 99% dominant residential community,” the petition read.

The petition was filed by Protect Our Sonoma Valley Family Neighborhoods, a nonprofit association, which objects to the operation of Loe Firehouse Dispensary at 15499 Arnold Drive, at the intersection of Madrone. The group lost an appeal in September that argued the same points as are listed in the petition, which the county received on Nov. 1.

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

Holly Rickett, deputy county counsel, said the petition does not prevent the dispensary owners, John and Samantha Loe (formerly John Lobro and Samantha Smith) from proceeding with their plans. Rickett said it was “premature” to answer any further questions at this point until she has had more time to review the petition and the case.

The Loes did not respond to several requests for comment.

The Loe Firehouse project will be located on a one-third-acre parcel in an existing commercial building – which is zoned for limited commercial business — that once housed a fire station. It will include 1,891 square feet of on-site retail floor area and employee use areas.

The neighborhood group believes the Sonoma County officials are not abiding by certain zoning restrictions related to the number of parking spaces, traffic and setback requirements. They also contend that a negative declaration, a county-required document that lists potential negative impacts and the developers plan to mitigate them, was “inadequate and incomplete.”

The county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) approved the dispensary application in April, and the neighborhood group filed an appeal that was reviewed and denied by the Board of Supervisors in September.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, in whose First District the Loe Firehouse is located, said that she wasn’t surprised to learn of the petition based on the public outcry against the dispensary, which tend to draw controversy.

“I can under why people have some concerns,” Gorin said. “But based upon my knowledge and experience” with cannabis retail establishments “this operation will fit in fine.”

Gorin said her first experience and interaction with a dispensary as public official was with Sonoma Patient Group in Santa Rosa, which was founded by the wife of former Sonoma mayor Ken Brown, Jewel Mathieson, who died in August. The dispensary was approved under the medicinal marijuana use allowed at the time, she said, and now sells recreational marijuana in compliance with new laws.

“Sonoma Patient Group is the way a dispensary could and should be operated,” Gorin said.

President of the neighborhood group, Paul Morrison, who lives near the proposed dispensary location, said during the September board meeting that the group objects to the variance allowed by the county to the 100-foot setback from residential zoning districts. This same objection is again listed in their petition.

The setback variance was allowed because it is consistent with other county dispensaries that were granted setback waivers based on physical and visual barriers between the dispensary and the residences that fall within less than 100-feet of the property, according to a September staff report by Permit Sonoma’s Crystal Acker. Additionally, the project’s parcel does not abut any residentially-zoned parcels, the report said.

The neighborhood group in its appeal and petition also argue that traffic in the area will be adversely affected by the dispensary, and said the county should have taken into consideration future projects such as the developing plans at Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). But the county contends that any decisions about what SDC will become in the future are in very early stages and cannot be factored into the dispensary’s approval because there is no data on which to base a decision.

Gorin said the amount of traffic – foot or vehicular – to the proposed dispensary is unlikely to be noticed given the expected flow of customers and deliveries. There are other proposed dispensaries – one approved in city limits for Sparc at 19315 Sonoma Highway, in the former El Gallo restaurant – and two others in the applicant approval process, that will draw customers, too.

The two additional dispensary applications within Sonoma Valley — one in Kenwood at 8910 Highway 12 and one at 15 Fremont Drive — are in process at Permit Sonoma but have not been scheduled for any hearings or a final decision.

Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, attorney for Protect Our Sonoma Valley Family Neighborhoods, said the Loes go forward with their project “at their own risk because if the court finds in our favor the court will rescind the approvals and require environmental review be conducted before the county can proceed with any further consideration of the project, as requested in the petition.”

After the briefing is finished, the hearing on the merits will occur and then the court will make it’s ruling, Mansfield-Howlett said, which may occur several months from now.

“These cases usually take eight to 10 months to get to trial but with COVID, it’s been longer,” she said.

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