Three Riverside citizen advisory commissions have weighed in on the subject of adult-use recreational cannabis sales in the village, with all three determining that such businesses would not harm its brand or historic landmark status.

On Thursday, Sept. 5 members of the Riverside Village Board will consider and could vote on a draft ordinance recommended last week by the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission that would make recreational cannabis dispensaries a permitted use in the B1-C business district along Harlem Avenue.

Commissioners also recommended that the hours of operation for such businesses be restricted to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week. Perhaps most controversially, for a group of residents who live on Byrd and Berkeley roads in the northeast corner of Riverside, commissioners imposed a 500-foot buffer between any dispensary and a school.

The residents urged the commission to retain a 1,000-foot restriction contained in the initial draft of the ordinance, because it would have eliminated Harlem Avenue north of Longcommon Road as a potential site for a dispensary.

With the long-vacant commercial property at 2704 Harlem Ave. identified as a potential site for a dispensary, the residents sought to block that property from being eligible for that purpose.

“I do think it’s extremely important to balance the interest in raising revenue and economic development with the type of economic development that we’re encouraging in Riverside,” said Erika Harford, a resident of Byrd Road, who has three small children and expressed concern that a cannabis dispensary near her home would clash with branding work Riverside has done in recent years and introduce “safety concerns” into the neighborhood, including additional traffic and crime.

In addition to the 1,000-foot buffer from schools, Harford also called for that buffer to be extended to libraries. The Berwyn Public Library as well as Morton West High School would fall within that buffer zone.

When the Riverside Village Board considers the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendations at their meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road, trustees can choose to accept the findings or amend them further –making them either more or less strict.

A majority of the seven-person board of trustees appears to favor allowing a cannabis dispensary to open in the commercial district along Harlem Avenue.

On Aug. 22, members of the Riverside Economic Development Commission unanimously agreed that a cannabis dispensary could have a positive economic impact on the village as long as the village’s rules for their operation weren’t too limiting.

Members of the Economic Development Commission also believed that buffer zones for the dispensaries weren’t necessary. Earlier, the Riverside Preservation Commission had agreed that the existence of a cannabis dispensary along Harlem Avenue would not negatively affect the village designation as a National Historic Landmark for its landscape design.

All of the planning and zoning commissioners said they wanted mandated parking standards written into the code for cannabis dispensaries, recognizing that the businesses are likely to attract quite a bit of traffic, which was one of the main concerns of the Byrd/Berkeley residents.

“The money that is expected to be derived from these establishments demands a high flow through of customers,” said Commissioner Joel Marhoul. “Parking is going to be an issue.”

Riverside Community Development Director Sonya Abt said she would work with the village’s traffic engineer to craft language regarding parking requirements for the code.

With respect to the hours of operation for dispensaries, commissioners took their cue from the village’s time restrictions on package liquor sales, and used the code’s buffer zone rules on alcohol sales to guide that decision.

While Commissioner Theresa Pelletier felt the 1,000-foot restriction was reasonable, others felt it was far too restrictive, given the mere 100-foot buffer from schools required for alcohol sales.

Commissioner Jacqueline Miller stated she supported Riverside allowing recreational cannabis sales because it had the potential to give Riverside regulatory control over a dispensary along Harlem Avenue or Ogden Avenue rather than a neighboring municipality.

“I would rather have that dispensary in Riverside, subject to our regulations rather than have it somewhere else,” Miller said.

The commission also recommended including language mandating that dispensaries enter into agreements with Riverside police regarding access to the property to enforce local ordinances or investigate suspicious vehicles or behavior, requiring a traffic study, banning the sale of alcohol or food at a dispensary, banning onsite consumption of cannabis and requiring that no cannabis odor is detectable outside a dispensary.

Many other requirements limiting things like signage and advertising, lighting and proximity to other dispensaries are covered by the state law.

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