click to enlarge “A parking lot? Is that what we’re going to be fighting about?” - JOE LAPOINTE

Joe Lapointe

“A parking lot? Is that what we’re going to be fighting about?”

The pot-holed plot of vacant scrubland is hardly a paradise. So the pot shop wants to pave it and put up a parking lot. But Clinton Township has said “No!” a lot — at least so far.

“I’ve heard the words ‘pot lot’ so many times it’s disgusting,” says Tammy Porter, a township trustee who may soon vote in favor of the zoning change. “With that term, somebody wants to spew negativity… We’re not selling marijuana on that parking lot.”

No, and it doesn’t grow there, either.

But the parcel of less than a half-acre in Clinton Township is a few feet from the Mount Clemens border, where JARS Cannabis sells medical marijuana and soon hopes to sell the recreational kind as well.

JARS already owns a larger, nicely-paved parking lot for its customers on its side of the borderline, on the west side of Groesbeck north of Canal in Macomb County. The store also owns the extra lot, in Clinton Township, which is across a street called Ferndale, behind the store, which has degraded into the look of an alley.

So JARS says it wants to use its Clinton Township parcel to spruce up the neighborhood and provide 18 spaces of parking for the cars of its Mount Clemens employees.

Although the Clinton Township parcel has been vacant for at least 15 years, opposition has come from powerful township leaders like planning director Bruce Thompson, attorney John Dolan, and supervisor Robert Cannon.

“We are still firmly recommending denial of this proposal,” Thompson said Thursday at the Planning Commission meeting in City Hall. In an interview afterward, he added: “It’s not unlike any other marijuana-related issue. There’s not much in-between. It becomes a very emotional issue.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Thompson was asked by commission member Bruce Wade whether cannabis might be Thompson’s reason for denial.

“I can’t really answer that question,” Thompson said. Later, he added: “We feel that this is not the highest and best use of this property, and that this use isn’t appropriate. It is that straightforward for us.”

Cannon, in a telephone interview on Friday, says, “I’d like to see housing there.” Dolan did not return several messages requesting comment.

The planning commission voted 6-2 Thursday to approve the zoning change to allow the “pot lot.” But the commission is only an advisory body. Any change in zoning must be made by the Board of Trustees. That’s where this gets complicated.

Earlier this year, the commission approved the same request for the parking lot and passed it up to the board for a vote. But the board sent the proposal back to the commission to demand more details regarding landscaping, lighting and video security cameras.

Now that those plans have been submitted by JARS, the six members of the township board could vote as soon as the next board meeting, on Monday, April 25. However, the agenda has not yet been published on its web site.

Although recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan after a vote in 2018, individual communities can choose for themselves to allow or ban associated cannabis businesses. After the issue was petitioned for the ballot in Clinton Township in 2020, marijuana lost by a vote of 15,163-13,648.

“That ballot failed,” Thompson said. “It is what it is. The citizens spoke.”

Robert Kirk, an attorney for JARS, appeared at Thursday’s planning meeting. Beforehand, he said the parking lot proposal is opposed by “a groundswell of influential and vocal citizens,” although he would not name them.

Porter, the first African-American on the board in township history, could be a pivotal vote. She is also on the planning commission, the only person to hold both roles.

During Thursday’s meeting, Porter spoke more than most members and suggested it is ludicrous for the board to keep batting the decision back and forth in the bureaucracy.

“I’m just trying to figure out what I’m missing in all of this,” Porter said. “A parking lot? Is that what we’re going to be fighting about?”

Porter said people would park on that ground anyway and she has seen cars parked there in the gravel and mud when driving by recently. That general area, including an empty restaurant parking lot next door, is often used for illicit activity, including sex, drugs, and alcohol, Porter said.

Other members of the commission said Thursday that the JARS parking lot plan would improve the neighborhood. One of them, Douglas Curd, said: “This may be the nicest parking lot we’ll ever get in Clinton Township.”

After studying plans for fencing and gating along with the landscaping, he said the proposed lot would be “pleasing to the eye. It’s attractive. This is going to be value-added. I’m supportive.”

JARS is an expanding enterprise. Its website lists 11 stores in Michigan, including one in Center Line that opened this month. It also has four locations in Arizona, according to the website, which also declares:

“Our progressive approach to product, design, staff, and community is helping change the conversation about cannabis in a positive, open way that any adult can connect with and feel good about.”

Two years ago, during the debate before the marijuana vote, a vocal opponent was Anthony Penna, an attorney representing a group that called itself Clinton Township First.

“People don’t want these businesses in their backyards,” he told the Detroit News. “They don’t want it near to their schools and churches, their homes.” Calls to Penna for comment Friday were not returned.

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