Full speed ahead after four-year application process for Glen Ellen cannabis shop
Neighborhood riled over intended use of former firehouse; appeal likely
By Jay Gamel
If use permits had to be approved by popular vote, this one probably wouldn’t have passed. But patience and determination paid off with a 5-0 vote in favor of the application by John Lobro and Samantha Smith to operate a medical marijuana dispensary and general marijuana retail sales store at the site of a former firehouse on the corner of Arnold Dr. and Madrone Rd., a fairly busy intersection in a rural part of Sonoma Valley.
Lobro and Smith are married and have two young children.
The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission voted 5-4 against recommending the project in May of 2018, with the opposing commissioners strongly considering the neighborhood sentiment.
The mixed rural residential neighborhood contains dozens of single-family homes across Madrone Rd. from the project site, three apartment complexes on the same side of the street, and limited commercial lots on the corner surrounding the firehouse, including the adjacent Rancho Market on Madrone and an art gallery on Arnold, also next door.
“I’m not opposed to a dispensary, just not here,” Robert Duste said, summing up the opinions of many neighbors who filed letters of protest and spoke up at the April 8 virtual hearing of the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA), a county agency that reviews use permits of the sort being requested.
The project file included over 500 pages of comments mostly objecting to the project but containing a fair share of support, as well.
Objections included increased traffic, the presence of children in the area, a nearby school bus drop-off, potential increases in crime and odor, the need for a setback waiver since some residential lots are within a 100foot setback required by the applicable ordinance, in addition to a few personal attacks on county staff and officials.
All five BZA commissioners approved the staff recommendation that the application proceed without an Environmental Impact Report after finding that there was “no substantial evidence that the project as approved will have a significant environmental effect.” The next and final step will be approval by the county Board of Supervisors.
“We are appealing the BZA decision to the Board of Supervisors,” Paul Morrison said via email the following day.
“We were extremely disappointed with yesterday’s BZA hearing,” Paul and Liz Morrison wrote afterward. “We will pursue our remedies to the fullest extent available by law. It’s unfortunate the County is handling this application this way. County officials are elected, appointed, and hired to protect property owners and to make sure that the codes that they voted on and put in place are enforced.” Dave Palmgren, who lives 200 feet south of the project, said, “Residents in closest proximity should be given precedence.” The Morrisons and others take issue with the decision to waive the setback requirements and the applicant’s traffic report, and dispute claims that the applicant had reached out to the neighborhood. They also take issue with the staff’s interpretation of the business size and parking requirements.
Some residential properties are less than 60 feet from the dispensary property line, according to the staff report. However, the report also pointed out that five other dispensaries have been granted exceptions to strict setback rules.
Karla Noyes, a real estate agent who owns a home in the neighborhood, feels that a marijuana retail business will lower property values.
Supporters spoke in favor as well, most welcoming a place to get medical marijuana. Sonoma County allows for only nine medical marijuana dispensaries in the entire unin- Dispensary – from page 2
have been responsibly run, and as far as I am aware, we haven’t had any crime issues with those. Some people think of drug addicts using in the parking lot; I don’t see that. As far as traffic goes, it is a light commercial district, and if not a dispensary, there will be some other facility of a similar size.”
Parking and building access will be from Arnold Dr., though employees will park on the Madrone side, in five off-street spaces. There will be 12 parking spaces in the rear, where patrons will enter through a security system. The business will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Opponents have until April 19 to file an appeal to the Board of Supervisors. Anyone wanting more information should contact Crystal Acker at Permit Sonoma at [email protected] or call her at 565-8357.
that the requirements could prove excessively expensive, the commissioners eventually decided to let them stand and allow the applicant to appeal on specific conditions once the final costs are known.
The original traffic study done by W-Trans of Santa Rosa in July of 2018 found that an increase of 263 net daily trips (in and out counting as two trips) would not result in services lower than C or D level, which are acceptable under county rules. A change in state law requiring traffic impacts to be based on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as of July 2020 had happy consequences for the project. The traffic study also called for the addition of bike racks for at least four bikes, which was a condition of approval.
With the presence of a dispensary in the area, customers would have to drive fewer miles; the inclusion of delivery service also helps. “These operational considerations would both be expected to lead to a reduction in regional VMT,” the study addendum concluded.
The city of Sonoma has approved a dispensary in the past month and is debating a second one as well. An application is pending for a dispensary in Kenwood’s shopping center.
“I think people do have different perceptions of [marijuana] based on historical information, maybe how things developed in the Los Angeles area,” Commissioner Todd Tamura said about the project. “My impression of dispensaries in the county is that they corporated area. This would be the first in the Sonoma Valley.
The original Dec. 2017 application filed by Apothevert was for a medical marijuana dispensary, but it was expanded to include general marijuana sales after the law changed in 2018 to permit both medical and general marijuana sales in the same business. Loe Firehouse, Inc. and John Lobro are now the principal applicants; Lobro owns the building with wife Smith under the name Goodharold, LLC. Hogan Land Services of Santa Rosa are representing the project.
At the end of the day, however, all five of the BZA commissioners found the project conforms to applicable laws and ordinances thatpermit the operation in the existing limited commercial zoning.
They had a harder time deciding on the applicant’s request to waive their obligation to bring the sidewalk up to disability law requirements, covered by 14 of 74 conditions for approval. Concerned