Mesa City Council faces decision on marijuana dispensary – azcentral.com

Gary Nelson, The Republic | azcentral.com 6:12 a.m. MST May 2, 2014

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The Mesa City Council on Monday, May 5, faces one of its weightiest agendas in recent months, headlined by controversy over a proposed medical-marijuana dispensary on East Main Street.

The idea is so controversial that several people showed up to protest the mere introduction of the rezoning ordinance last month — normally a routine step even for contentious issues.

The rezoning would change the designation of mostly vacant land at 6350 E. Main St. from limited commercial to limited industrial.

The council in 2011 confined medical-marijuana dispensaries to industrial zones because some members said allowing them in commercial areas could damage nearby businesses and Mesa’s image.

Planning Director John Wesley outlined the proposal during the council’s April 21 meeting.

“This is an area of Mesa that has gone through some growing pains and is now looking for some opportunities for redevelopment,” Wesley said.

The proposal to rezone Granite Reef Plaza got 4-0 approval from the Planning and Zoning Board on Feb. 19.

Several neighbors told the council the marijuana shop would violate city ordinances and contribute to an already nasty crime rate in the area. Others said they have been kept in the dark about the true purpose of the rezoning.

The application was submitted by a company called Granite Reef Inc., represented by Lindsay Schube, a Phoenix zoning attorney.

Schube said the request complies with Mesa law and that the Nature’s Healing marijuana shop is only one potential tenant. She said the neighborhood is flooded with empty commercial properties and industrial zoning would broaden the base of potential uses.

“The overriding fear among the residents is security,” Schube said. “I’m not pro or against dispensaries, but gosh darn it, they are safer than banks.” Among other measures, she said, security cameras will roll 24 hours a day with footage to be stored for five years.

Council approval will require six votes because neighbors have filed a legal protest to the rezoning.

Monday’s agenda carries several other noteworthy issues, including:

• Approval of the preliminary 2014-15 city budget. General-fund spending will be about the same as this year, but the city is drawing down its reserve funds and relying on utility-rate hikes to help sustain the current level of services.

Final budget approval is scheduled for May 19.

• Approving the sale of $36.4 million in utility bonds and $37.6 million in general-obligation bonds for a long list of capital-improvement projects this year.

Voters previously authorized these bond sales. Utility bonds are paid from user fees, and general-obligation bonds are paid from Mesa’s secondary property tax.

Mesa will enter the bond markets for competitive bids on June 4, and the council is expected to approve the sales the next morning during its study session.

Among the projects to be funded: land acquisition and design to replace west-side Fire Station 203; a new “burn room” for fire department training; and major street work on Mesa Drive, Southern Avenue in the Fiesta District and First Avenue in the downtown area.

• Rezoning of the northwestern corner of Higley and Brown roads for a single-family housing development with about 450 homes. The rezoning won 7-0 backing from the Planning and Zoning Board but neighbors have registered opposition because of concerns about density, traffic and safety.

• Historic designation for a house built by TV legend Lorne Greene next to what is now the Arizona Golf Resort. The house is an exact replica of the ranch house on Greene’s long-running “Bonanza” series.

• A $1.8 million project to replace sewer lines along a 1.1-mile stretch of Broadway Road between Horne and Williams streets.

The existing lines are 50 to 60 years old and are subject to failure, according to a city engineer’s report. Voter-approved bonds will pay for the job.

• A zoning change to accommodate potential industrial campuses on the north end of DMB Associates’ Eastmark development.

Monday’s council meeting is 5:45 p.m. at 57 E. First St. It will be broadcast live on Mesa cable Channel 11 and later via streaming video on the station’s website.

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