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Kenwood dispensary tackles parking, traffic concerns

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Concerns expressed last week at a community meeting about a proposed cannabis dispensary in Kenwood include safety, intoxication and exposure to children – but by far the greatest worry among neighbors is parking and traffic.

Held in the space the cannabis dispensary – Sonoma’s Finest – is now renting and will occupy if its permit is approved, more than two dozen people filtered in and out of the meeting, some listening, some voicing concerns, some offering suggestions, some enjoying the provided pizza.

“We walked in with the intent to learn,” said Jazz Toor, one of the dispensary owners. “Business is built by listening.”

Three of the owner-operators who were there – Toor, Jerred Kiloh and David Scott – said they were pleased with the turnout, which was more than double the 10 who’d RSVP’d to the meeting invitation.

Sonoma’s Finest is located at 8910 Highway 12 in the Kenwood Village shopping center in the space formerly occupied by Orpheus Wines. The space has been vacant since Orpheus left shortly after the 2017 fires.

Its location is the main rub with residents. The space is next to the post office where residents pick up their mail because they do not have home delivery service in Kenwood. Speakers said they are worried that there won’t be any parking spaces available because they think cannabis customers will fill the spaces.

That potential problem, said the dispensary owners, can be prevented by marking spaces with signs designating the post office spaces for postal customers only, and educating the dispensary customers on where it is OK to park.

The owners are willing to be flexible with a number of other operational matters such as the hours of business, allowing tours, which of the two doors to the space customers can use and where customers can park.

“We’re going to do our best and if you tell us our best isn’t good enough then we’ll change for you,” Kiloh said.

When one speaker suggested writing in to their conditional use permit specific restrictions on the business, the owners said they were open to that, as well.

After the meeting, the business owners said they were somewhat surprised that there wasn’t more objection to the business itself, being a cannabis retail store. Two people at the meeting expressed concern about the consumption of cannabis on or near the proposed store. On neighborhood social media sites such as Nextdoor, some people said they think the dispensary will cause loitering and crime.

To allay those concerns, Kiloh said the store is required by law to have security personnel and cameras, and they would be willing to hire more security guards if that is what the residents of Kenwood want. The guards can be armed, or not, he said. They can wear uniforms or street clothes. Employees including the guards can help monitor the courtyard and parking lot, picking up trash and ensuring the no-consumption on the property rule is adhered, Kiloh said.

This kind of discussion is why they are having such community meetings, he said – to understand what the community is most comfortable with.

“We’re here to talk about how we can stay within the guidelines of what you think is best for your community,” Kiloh told the group.

The major sticking point for speakers centered on Highway 12 and the lack of a stop light or stop sign where the majority of Kenwood businesses are located. The two-lane road has a center left-turn lane, but it ends at about the northern edge of the plaza. Residents said the lack of a light or full center lane creates a hazard when making a left turn out of the marketplace. Attempts to get the center lane extended or a light installed have failed for years, one speaker said.

Cannabis is legal in California now, but there is still a black market out there, Kiloh said, and having a legal dispensary in a community has proven to cut down on illegal activity in the area.

Kiloh has 15 years experience in the cannabis industry, owns dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is the president of the United Cannabis Business Association, which is a trade organization representing cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and distributors. He works with Gov. Gavin Newsom on legislation involving cannabis, he said.

One woman offered a “little advice” telling Kiloh paralleling Kenwood to Los Angeles and San Francisco is not a good idea.

“We’re not Los Angeles and we’re not San Francisco, we’re a very special place,” she said.

Both Kiloh and Scott are Sonoma County residents and have lived in the region most of their lives. Toor is from the East Bay. They wanted people to know that they are locals and care about the community.

Kiloh shared that he and Scott met through Kiloh’s birthing center in Santa Rosa, adding that they are locals with deep connections to the community.

“I’ve lived in Sonoma County for 23 years, I know how special this place is,” Kiloh said.

Kiloh and Scott said they’ve received support from neighboring businesses who said there is not much foot traffic Monday through Thursday and they would appreciate any additional draw the dispensary might bring.

Kiloh said in an interview that he was pleased to hear residents think the store will be so successful that Sonoma’s Finest customers will take up all the parking spaces. But in his experience in the industry – which he says is considerable – they will average 20 or so customers an hour who won’t all come at the same time, and they are unlikely to cause the amount of traffic people are anticipating.

Kenwood resident Will Strickland said his “biggest concern” regarding the dispensary was “traffic,” but after the meeting he said he wasn’t too worried about it any more.

“I think they will do their best,” Strickland said. “It was great to be able to give input.”

Christina Munoz echoed Strickland and told attendees how she tried cannabis recently to alleviate insomnia. She said she felt great and has been sleeping better than ever.

The Kenwood location is kind of a “dead zone” when it comes to cannabis dispensaries, Kiloh said. There are several dispensaries in Santa Rosa, but there are none in Sonoma Valley, making Kenwood an ideal location for cannabis users.

Sonoma’s Finest has been paying $8,000 in rent per month since May, 2018. The trio said that alone should assure residents that they are committed to the project and plan to be a part of the community.

“We’re a really great option to have if you’re going to have cannabis here,” Kiloh said.

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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