Mitchell Planning Commission denies two medical marijuana variances, approves one
Proposed downtown dispensary location, Juniper Avenue building variances denied
Two medical marijuana entrepreneurs' plans to open dispensaries in Mitchell hit a snag on Monday after the Planning and Zoning Commission denied their variances.
Emmett Reistroffer, owner of Sioux Falls-based Genesis Farms LLC, and Donald Livesay Jr., of Mitchell, were among the two individuals seeking to open a dispensary who had their variances denied during Monday’s meeting.
Reistroffer’s plan to open a dispensary at 100 W. Fifth Ave. that sits across the street from Word of Life Church sparked opposition among some nearby businesses and residents. Since his proposed location to open a medical cannabis dispensary in downtown Mitchell is within 300 feet from the church, he was required to receive a variance and conditional use to operate.
Rev. Bill Parks has been leading the Word of Life Church on Mitchell’s Main Street for the past 25 years, and he opposed the proposed dispensary location across the street from his church.
“If you created a buffer zone for churches, I would just ask that you maintain that in this process of approving licenses,” Parks said. “I wish (Reistroffer) well, and I do hope he finds a location just not at this one.”
But the Planning Commission honored the city’s code that prohibits a dispensary from being within 300 feet of a church, unanimously denying Reistroffer’s variance.
“I hate to turn away businesses downtown, but this is not a good spot,” said commission member Jon Osterloo.
Prior to the Planning Commission denying Reistroffer’s variance, the Sioux Falls medical marijuana entrepreneur emphasized the 100 W. Fifth Ave. location that he’s seeking to do business out of is an ideal, centrally located building. Reistroffer also noted he explored looking at locations on the north side of Mitchell, but he said many landlords weren't on board with renting to a medical cannabis dispensary.
“That means it’s more walkable than any of these proposed locations. It means it’s convenient for folks, as we’re right next to the post office and close to the Corn Palace,” he said. “We want to conform to the neighborhood, aesthetically.”
Reistroffer was one of the five businesses to secure a dispensary license in Sioux Falls after submitting 26 applications, each costing $75,000, in hopes of boosting his chances of being drawn in the lottery system. He touted his growing cannabis business operation and expertise in the industry as an advantage of running a “professional, secure” dispensary in downtown Mitchell.
“I talked to nearby business owners and the Chamber of Commerce, and really got a very positive response,” Reistroffer said. “We are good neighbors, and I really don’t see the negative. I think folks who are skeptical will see that in due time, as I don’t want to pit neighbors against neighbors.”
While the Mitchell City Council previously approved a total of five dispensaries, which is the maximum number Mitchell allows, three of those dispensaries were required to receive a variance to operate. As required by city code, a medical marijuana dispensary cannot operate within 1,000 feet from another dispensary. In addition, the city’s zoning codes prohibit a medical cannabis dispensary to operate within 300 feet of a church.
Chairman Jay Larson and Larry Jirsa were the only two members of the commission to deny all variance requests on Monday. Larson pointed out there are “plenty of other places” in Mitchell that are available for a medical marijuana dispensary to operate without having to request a variance to operate.
“My gut tells me whatever the ordinance is for being a part from another business or educational institution, I think I would adhere to that,” Jirsa said. “There are other places in the city of Mitchell where it would work so they wouldn’t have to get a variance. So I’m not in favor of doing variances for any of them.”
Despite the variances being denied for both dispensaries, the Mitchell City Council will ultimately decide whether the variances are granted.
Juniper Avenue dispensary variance gets denied
For Livesay Jr. to open his dispensary, he was required to receive a variance due to his proposed location at 501 E. Juniper Ave. being within 1,000 feet from another dispensary. After the City Council approved a Missouri group’s medical cannabis dispensary license in early December, which Mayor Bob Everson noted was submitted prior to Livesay’s application, it put his proposed dispensary within 1,000 feet from a Missouri group’s dispensary.
The Missouri-based group, doing business as BesaMe Wellness, will operate their dispensary out of the former Runnings building along Burr Street with Runnings’ recent move to the old Kmart building across the street. However, because BesaMe Wellness’ license was approved before the remaining dispensary applications during the Dec. 6 council meeting, it put two cannabis dispensaries within 1,000 feet of their 1400 S. Burr St. building.
Attorney Doug Dailey spoke on behalf of a nearby property owner who is against Livesay’s proposed dispensary location on Juniper Avenue, noting his clients are concerned the dispensary could create public safety issues and increased traffic. If approved, Dailey said the location would create a “concentration” of medical marijuana establishments, which he highlighted was a big factor in the council’s decision to create 1,000 feet separatioins from cannabis facilities.
“This is within 1,000 feet from another dispensary with the elimination of the right-of-way, so this is a direct violation of that zoning code,” Dailey said.
Livesay’s attorney, Nick Moser, pushed back on the worry that the dispensary could cause a spike in crime in the area, highlighting the “strict” security measures that marijuana establishments are required to adhere to.
“I understand it’s a new industry and people have concerns, but there are incredibly strict regulations. The security that goes into these properties are two, three, four and 10 times of what you will see from any other retail industry,” Moser said. “You are going to have 24-hour security 365 days a year. The Department of Health is going to be able to view inside the dispensary at all times.”
Although the Juniper Avenue location falls within 1,000 feet from another dispensary, Moser said there is enough distance between the two for a variance to be heavily considered and granted.
“If you look at those locations, I think you would have to stretch the argument pretty hard to say having a location at Juniper Avenue and one at the Runnings building violates what the city is trying to achieve,” he said. “These are districts where these types of businesses should be.”
As of now, three medical marijuana dispensaries have cleared all hurdles to open up in 2022, while two remain in limbo.
Native Nations dispensary receives green light
Among the three dispensaries seeking variances, Native Nations Cannabis – a medical marijuana company based out of Flandreau – was the lone entity to receive its variances during Monday’s Planning Commission meeting.
What makes Native Nations’ variance different from Livesay’s is the right-of-way in between the proposed location and other dispensaries and educational institutions. If the right-of-ways weren’t factored into the equation, Native Nations Cannabis wouldn’t be within 1,000 feet from a dispensary and educational institution. But Livesay’s location would still fall within 1,000 feet from another dispensary without the right-of-ways being factored in for the variance.
Native Nations Cannabis was required to receive two variances to operate at the 1620 S. Burr St. location due to the close proximity of Mitchell Technical College.
While MTC’s property line boundary is more than 1,000 feet from the strip mall, City Attorney Justin Johnson said the Interstate 90 right-of-ways are excluded from factoring into the property line distance, which puts Native Nations’ proposed dispensary location within 1,000 feet of the local college as well.
For commission member Brad Penney, the actual measurements from the property lines showing that Native Nations' proposed business location is at least 1,000 feet from MTC and another dispensary was a deciding factor for his approval of both variances.
“If you get a tape measure, despite the right-of-ways, they are the right distances. There are only so many places they can go,” Penney said.