Litchfield Approves Retail Cannabis

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It took ten months and three votes, but a resolution to the decision on whether the City of Litchfield will have a retail cannabis outlet was settled during the council’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7.

After much discussion, three motions pertaining to the sale of retail cannabis in the city passed, with the first two going by a 6-2 vote, followed by an 8-0 vote for the third motion, which imposed a three percent tax on retail sales of cannabis.

The discussion began with a public hearing, with one person, Darin Ashby, speaking in favor of approving the three motions.

Ashby said that he was on the governor’s task force to bring medical marijuana to the community and within nine months Litchfield had a grow facility, with a dispensary coming three months later. He asked why the city had not seen any movement on the recreational side in a year and if the city was dragging its feet.

City Attorney Kit Hantla said that the motion had failed twice before. Ashby responded by citing the recent voting outcome of the question whether the people of Litchfield wanted the sale of recreational marijuana in their town, which passed by a 65 to 35 percent margin. He also asked, possibly hypothetically, if the aldermen were supposed to put aside their own biases and do what their constituents wanted them to do.

The public hearing would end with no further comments, but Ed Wernsing, chairman of the planning commission, would speak in favor of the proposal during the regular meeting.

Wernsing said that the planning commission had worked on the project four different times and hoped that the council would approve the measures this time. He added that he would have not been for it had it not been legal, but since it is legal, he thought Litchfield, which he called the economic engine of the area, should be the place to have it.

Wernsing also mentioned that many businesses are looking to locate in Litchfield or already have, but many of the owners live in other areas. He stated that he hoped more of these owners would live in Litchfield and invest in the community.

To start the discussion of the first motion, to approve an ordinance amending Chapter 150 of the Litchfield Zoning Ordinance pertaining to adult use cannabis, Alderman David Hollo proposed an amendment which would require a special use permit to have a retail cannabis dispensary.

Alderman Ray Kellenberger disagreed with the proposed amendment and questioned whether it was a ploy to postpone or make the motion fail by Hollo, who had voted against retail cannabis twice before.

Hollo said it was not a ploy, but instead an option to make businesses go through the planning commission before their retail cannabis outlets were approved. He saw it as another safeguard to protect the city.

Hantla informed Hollo that if this was done, the city would have to restart the process all over again for the fourth time. Hantla said that the Illinois Municipal League said municipalities could go with special use or ordinance changes, but he did not believe this met the classification for special use based on the city’s previous terminology. 

Hollo said that he didn’t know that the amendment would require restarting the process, with Hantala saying that the amendment would require a completely different ordinance. Hantla also added that some of Hollo’s concerns about how many facilities can locate in the city and restrictions on the facilities could be controlled by the application process.

Aldermen Mark Brown and Tim Wright stated that they would rather not have to send the project back to the planning commission again and said that some of the issues should have been addressed before that night’s meeting.

Alderwoman Kassidy Paine added that the city is not approving the sale of marijuana in a place where it is not already being sold, with the first applicant expected to be the city’s medical marijuana dispensary, the Greenhouse.

Mayor Steve Dougherty said that the city cannot have more than one license for retail cannabis unless it is approved by the city council and compared the application process to the city’s liquor application, but more stringent.

Hantla also noted that if a retail dispensary, like the Greenhouse, would want to change sites, they would have to reapply with the city and comply with all of the requirements.

The vote for the amendment would fail by a 7-1 margin, with Hollo voting for the amendment. On the original motion, Hollo and Woody Street would vote no as the motion passed 6-2, adhering to 3/4ths margin that was required due to objections from two of the Greenhouse property’s neighbors.

The second motion, to approve an ordinance establishing a retail cannabis sales license, also passed 6-2 with Street and Hollo voting no.

Street stated after the vote that everyone knew that he was against the motions, not because he was a Christian, but because he was concerned for the people of Litchfield. Previously he said he would vote with how the people wanted after the referendum, but said that despite that result, he could not bring himself to vote in favor of it.

With the first two motions allowing the sale of retail cannabis, the third motion, which would allow the city to benefit from its sale, passed unanimously.

The marijuana motions weren’t the only ones to draw resistance from the council. An ordinance authorizing the city’s intent to lease property located in Eagle Ridge Subdivision also had two votes against it.

Mayor Dougherty said before the vote that the city had a lot of interest in the property and those people would be the first ones to get packets containing information on the bidding process. He said that the roads and street lights were complete and that the money from the subdivision would allow the city to do projects like the Silver Circle water main and rip rap for Lake Lou Yaeger.

Alderman Street said that he hoped that the project would help draw businesses and industry to Litchfield.

City Administrator Tonya Flannery said that the ordinance was necessary for the city to reap the rewards of the completed project.

Mark Brown, who along with Dwayne Gerl voted against the ordinance, said that the lake should always be the city council’s first priority and work should have been done on the lake before the city decided to move forward with the subdivision. Brown also said that if people buy lake property, but there is no water in the lake, the city will have a real problem.

Mayor Dougherty said that the project will benefit the lake, with Brown saying that it was too late and lake maintenance should have been a priority years ago.

The council also passed a motion to approve the minimum suggested bid amounts for the Eagle Rdige subdivision, which was decided in closed session.

A motion to approve a repair estimate on a 2009 Ford F250 water tech truck from Gerl’s Auto Body for $2,105.27 also had two dissenting votes before passing 5-2-1, with Alderman Gerl, the owner of the business, abstaining.

Alderman Hollo asked Hantla what dollar amount aldermen are able to do contracts with the city.

Hantla said he didn’t know off the top of his head, with Flannery adding she believed it was between $4,000 and $5,000. Gerl said that he contacted Montgomery County Clerk Sandy Leitheiser, who told him $5,000 per year was allowed.

Hollo, a contractor by trade, said that he personally didn’t think it looked good when aldermen bid on city projects and he doesn’t bid on any of the city’s construction contracts.

Hollo and Alderwoman Paine would vote against the motion.

In other business, the council approved the appointment of Beth Cherry and Neal Francis to the Tourism Board, accepted minutes from the Dec. 17 meeting and agreed to waive the late fee for Henderson Water District.

The fee, $1,050 from September, was addressed at a previous meeting after Henderson was one day late on submitting their payment. Hollo proposed the waiving of the fee since Henderson is a major purchaser, buying 2.6 million gallons per month.

Also passing was a sixth amendment to the operating agreement with Grand Rental for boat rental services at Lake Lou Yaeger and expenditures and cost of temporary employees for the Litchfield Pickers Market in an amount not to exceed $31,000. 

Alderman Ray Kellenberger asked if it had been decided for sure the city could have the pickers market, with the mayor saying that they are targeting May, but are ready to postpone if they have to.

Earlier in the meeting, City Clerk Carol Burke swore in the Litchfield Police Department’s newest officer, Andrew Wakefield, who had been working in the Champaign County area and was progressing through the city’s training program.

New firefighters Ben Black and Tyler Daniels were also on hand. Black, who started in May, had worked in Springfield and was a graduate of the fire academy in Romeoville. He said that he looked forward to being a part of the community and planned to move to Litchfield soon with his wife and their three children.

Daniels, who started Jan. 2, previously worked for Maryville’s volunteer fire department and for the Alton Memorial Hospital EMS. 

Litchfield Fire Chief Joe Holomy said that both Black and Daniels had a great deal of experience in the EMS field and were good additions to the department.

The council would enter closed session at 7:15 p.m., with the one item pertaining to the minimum bid for Eagle Ridge lots approved afterward. 

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