On Monday, February 15th, 2021 Councilwoman Susan Clarke led a public committee meeting to discuss the medical marijuana dispensary zoning ordinance for the Borough of Chester Heights.
The implementation of such an ordinance is not designed to permit these establishments, but rather to create a mechanism by which their location could be more strictly regulated. The ordinance proposes that medical marijuana dispensaries could be allowed by special exception in the Business District; limited to the main corridor of Route 1; 1000 ft away from a school or daycare. The original proposal also included the 1000 ft distance limit from residences, but since there is no location that is a business district in the main corridor which is more than 1000 ft away from a residential district, the president of the council recommended a shorter distance of 500 ft to be considered.
If the borough does not pass this ordinance, a medical marijuana dispensary could be approved under the existing code by applying a broader use such as a “retail store less than 10,000 sq ft”. If the dispensary were slightly larger (more than 10,000 sq ft) an operator could still apply for a special exception to the Zoning Hearing Board under the existing code with the broader definition and fewer restrictions.
Other municipalities in the area have enacted zoning ordinances to address potential applications for dispensaries and growers in response to the PA Marijuana Act 16 passed in 2016. Concord passed an ordinance in 2019 limiting the locations of the dispensaries. They structured it as an exception to their existing zoning ordinance. In Aston, they combined an indoor grower facility and a medical marijuana dispensary as a conditional use application. A special exception falls in the jurisdiction of the Zoning Hearing Board while the conditional use would be decided upon by the governing body.
The state requires that the applicant wishing to be licensed must meet the zoning of the municipality where they plan on being located. There are a limited number of these licenses and the likelihood of them coming to CHB is low, but it would be worse to be caught unprepared.
Dr. Kate Nolt, a Public Health expert was present at the meeting and discussed the potential for adverse community impact of medical marijuana dispensaries. She shared a policy brief that she co-authored for the American Public Health Association: A Public Health Approach for Regulating Commercially Legalized Cannabis.
Her insight provides an even stronger argument as to why the borough needs to update the zoning code to include medical marijuana dispensaries.
Councilwoman Clarke will work with the borough engineer and zoning officer to map the specific locations that would eventually become permitted under the new ordinance for use as a dispensary. Once the details are finalized the matter would be brought to the full council for consideration. After a council vote to enact the ordinance, a public hearing would be scheduled, advertised, and held. A copy of the ordinance would be submitted to the County Planning Commission for review. Any substantial changes would be addressed through revisions and the council would then vote on the adoption of the ordinance.