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Santa Rosa allows pot dispensary to open down the street from charter school

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A cannabis dispensary can open down the street from a Santa Rosa charter school after City Council overruled an objection to the proposed pot store from Sonoma County’s largest school district.

The B Kind cannabis store, financed and managed by NorCal Cannabis Co., is slated to open later this year at 1128 Sonoma Ave. — 685 feet west of the Santa Rosa French American Charter School.

It was the first time the City Council took action on a specific cannabis dispensary appeal since Santa Rosa’s marijuana ordinance took effect in January 2018, following the legalization of recreational marijuana cultivation, sale and use in California. The city school district had appealed in December to try to block B Kind, after the city Planning Commission approved the dispensary the month before.

Sacramento attorney Jim Traber, speaking on behalf of Santa Rosa Public Schools, said Tuesday that the extra 85 feet that allows B Kind to comply with the local cannabis ordinance was inconsequential.

“Kids at the school won’t be measuring the difference. They’ll be feeling the impact just the same,” Traber said.

Nick Caston, a cannabis consultant speaking on behalf of B Kind, said the dispensary was complying with all state laws and local rules. He urged council to “reject the premise” that cannabis retailers pose some sort of negative effect.

Council members expressed support for the city’s ordinance when it came to buffers between pot shops and K-12 schools and for giving a sense of stability to cannabis retail operators who adhere to Santa Rosa’s rules.

The council Tuesday also decided a divisive case between two aspiring Roseland pot retailers that drew dozens of people to City Hall and denied a less controversial appeal stemming from south Santa Rosa.

Central to all three disputes is Santa Rosa’s prohibition on dispensaries operating within 600 feet of an elementary or high school or another dispensary. The latter requirement, meant to prevent overcrowding of cannabis businesses, was questioned several times by council members and residents who spoke Tuesday.

Before these cannabis proposals reach the planning process, they are vetted through a competitive process involving review and scoring by city staffers. Then, they’re heard by a panel of three council members, who can recommend proposals advance to the planning stage.

The council voted in favor of Phenotopia, which wants to open a dispensary in a strip mall at Dutton Avenue and Sebastopol Road in Roseland. City staff recommended Phenotopia over Highway Retail Outlet, also known as Highway 420.

Many who attended Tuesday’s council meeting were clad in purple shirts handed out by Phenotopia — led by Padraic Fahey of Santa Rosa — which paid for a bus to bring supporters to the meeting and handed out free sandwiches in the City Hall courtyard prior to the meeting. Other supporters wore bright green “Highway 420” shirts, creating a clash of colors that illustrated the division the case created in the local cannabis industry.

As part of Phenotopia’s opening salvo, attorney Blair Gue said Phenotopia was a more polished project and said Justin Miranda, Highway 420’s proprietor, previously was sentenced to prison in Nevada almost 20 years ago for drug trafficking.

Caston, who also represented Highway 420, defended Miranda as someone who made a mistake nearly two decades ago and characterized the project as a local, Latino-owned effort backed by Roseland community leaders and neighboring businesses. He questioned elements of city staff’s scoring of the project and added that this appeals process “really truly resembles a political campaign more so than it resembles a land-use process.”

The six council members present — Julie Combs connected by phone from South America for this item — voted 5-1 in favor of Phenotopia, which can now proceed to the permitting process under the scrutiny of the Planning Commission. Councilman Ernesto Olivares cast the dissenting vote.

The council also endorsed the Friends & Farmers proposal for a dispensary in the 300 block of Yolanda Avenue, unanimously denying an appeal from CN Santa Rosa.

Thirteen of the 38 dispensary applications in the city’s first batch have been approved by the Planning Commission, deputy planning director Clare Hartman told the council. At least one more appeal is forthcoming to the council chambers: a dispensary proposed near a preschool in east Santa Rosa.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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