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Akron rolls out medical marijuana plan

4/20/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Also, questions remain on tax abatement proposal

DOWNTOWN AKRON — City of Akron officials want to enact local laws to regulate medical marijuana businesses before prospective operators seek state approval to enter the budding industry.

An ordinance regarding regulations for the cultivation, processing and dispensing of medical marijuana was introduced to Akron City Council April 17. A public hearing is set for May 1, but representatives of the city’s law department gave an overview this week to the Planning Committee on state law and what the city is proposing.

Council approved a moratorium on any medical marijuana businesses last September as questions remained on how the state would oversee the industry. Ohio House Bill 523, which went into effect just before Council’s action, allows licensed medical marijuana cultivators, processors, dispensaries and testing laboratories to operate in the state. Ohio must have a functioning program for production, sale and consumption of medical marijuana in place by Sept. 8, 2018, according to city officials.

Approval of the new legislation would repeal the moratorium and allow businesses that receive state licenses to set up shop in Akron, providing they comply with city regulations. City officials said applications for cultivators will be available from the state in June and provisional licenses will likely be issued in September.

While businesses could be operating in Akron, the city ordinance would “heavily regulate” where they can be located, according to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan’s office. Facilities would not be allowed in residential areas or within 500 feet of schools, churches, libraries, playgrounds or parks. The ordinance would also require Council to issue a special conditional use to a medical marijuana business before it could operate within the city limits. It would also require a multistep local licensing process and allow the Akron Police Department to inspect any medical marijuana facility at any time.

As part of the presentation, city officials also displayed a map of potential locations for medical marijuana facilities in the city.

Public hearings will take place May 1 at 1:30 p.m. in Council Chambers and again that evening at 7, also in Chambers.

Also this week, the Planning Committee discussed at length the residential construction tax abatement proposal that was introduced the previous week. Committee Chair Jeff Fusco (D-at large) indicated an interest in passing the ordinance that night, but several Council members said they wanted more time and information on the plan, which would abate property taxes on new home construction or major home improvements for 15 years.

Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) said the plan, which could be used citywide, might not do enough to encourage development in the hardest hit neighborhoods of the city. He also wanted to know if home repairs such as new roofs, windows or siding could be considered a home improvement.

Ellen Lander-Nischt, assistant director of law, said regular home maintenance wouldn’t be covered by the abatement. The abatement would only apply if the home’s value as determined by the county is changed due to a renovation or addition valued at $5,000 or more.

Fusco said allowing all city homeowners the chance to participate in the abatement would benefit the city overall.

“If nothing is done, nothing will be gained,” Fusco said.

“It’s not that we don’t want anything to be done,” Neal said. “I’m concerned with how we rush into things.”

Councilwoman Veronica Sims (D-at large) echoed some of Neal’s concerns.

“I was hoping the legislation would be more clear about how to help areas in most desperate need,” she said. “There are social policies of the past that have torn up parts of the city,” such as urban renewal.

“This ordinance is not going to solve all our problems,” said Councilman Rich Swirsky (D-Ward 1). “These are small steps to get the city moving forward.”

Councilman Bob Hoch (D-Ward 6) disagreed the abatement wouldn’t help troubled neighborhoods, noting that much of the vacant land in the city is where houses have been demolished. Sims responded by saying she supports the spirit of the proposal but her line of questioning was out of a sense of responsibility to residents.

“There are things we need to be cognizant of,” she said. “These are real concerns, and I’m sorry we don’t see them that way.”

According to the mayor’s office, once Council passes the tax abatement legislation, the program will be submitted to the state for approval. Once the program is finalized, the city will make a formal announcement, including instructions for how to apply.

In other business this week, Council approved on first reading an ordinance allowing the city to issue a $10 million bond from the state’s Water Pollution Control Loan Fund for the Howard Street Storage Basin project, part of the city’s efforts to address combined sewer overflows. The bond is the first with a 45-year financing term, according to Steve Fricker, deputy director of finance.

“In looking at making these projects as affordable as possible, we’re looking at as long a term of financing as possible,” Fricker said. “The assets we are financing are 50- or even 100-year assets that will benefit several generations, so it makes sense to spread out the costs.”

Also during its meeting this week:

  • Council set a public hearing for May 1 regarding a conditional use to establish the Pay It Forward For Pets overnight pet boarding facility at 1496 N. Portage Path in Merriman Valley;
  • Council placed on the consent agenda for approval at the next meeting five ordinances regarding special assessments for road repairs completed in 2016.
  • Council passed a resolution congratulating the 2016-17 St. Vincent-St. Mary High School boys basketball team for its Division II state basketball championship. Members of the team and Coach Dru Joyce attended the meeting.
    “You do me proud as an alum,” said Horrigan. “You are also upstanding young men in the classroom, too. Thank you for representing the City of Akron well and your school.”
  • Council passed a resolution honoring the life and achievements of former Summit County Clerk of Courts Diana Zaleski, who died April 8 at 76.
    “She was truly a class act,” Fusco said, noting that Zaleski was the first woman elected to her position.

Council will next meet April 24 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. that day, also in Chambers.

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