The approval of two zoning variances for the property at 2710 Harlem Ave. paves the way for Riverside to sell the property to Dr. Milad Nourahmadi, who will convert it into a parking lot that will serve the strip mall he owns at 2720 Harlem Ave. and a planned cannabis dispensary at 2704 Harlem Ave. | Image courtesy of the village of Riverside

A cannabis dispensary in Riverside came one step closer to reality last week when elected officials voted to approve a zoning application that is the key to the entire deal.

Village President Joseph Ballerine cast the deciding vote on Jan. 6 to approve a special use permit and two zoning variances without condition to Dr. Milad Nourahmadi, who seeks to buy village owned land at 2710 Harlem Ave. and turn it into a parking lot.

The variances will allow for a narrower drive-aisle in the parking lot and for a smaller landscaped setback from the east property line.

Ballerine’s vote was necessary after trustees deadlocked 3-3 on an unconditional approval. Those voting in favor of unconditional approval were Megan Claucherty, Alex Gallegos and Edward Hannon. Trustees Cristin Evans, Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga and Doug Pollock voted against.

That vote followed an identically deadlocked vote, also broken by Ballerine, on a motion by Pollock to impose seven conditions for approving the variances, ones opponents believed might complicate the deal to the point of killing it.

Pollock’s wish to modify a pair of curb cuts along Harlem Avenue to improve circulation inside the parking lot – something that would result in needing approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation – was a particular sticking point.

“I’ve dealt with IDOT professionally, and it’s been a multiyear process,” said Hannon who moved to approve the zoning variances without imposing any conditions.

Pollock, a former village administrator and planner, argued that by submitting proper plans, getting IDOT approval for modifying curb cuts would not be a problem, but a majority of his colleagues appeared doubtful.

Those voting to approve the variances also had in mind an early February date Nourahmadi has set for closing on the 2710 Harlem Ave. and the sale of the property he owns immediately to the north, at 2704 Harlem Ave.

The two deals are linked and could be jeopardized by any delay. Nourahmadi plans to sell 2704 Harlem Ave. to Mint IL LLC, which would remodel the existing building and turn it into an adult-use cannabis dispensary.

Nourahmadi plans to combine the properties at 2710 Harlem Ave. and the strip mall he owns at 2720 Harlem Ave. to provide enough parking for both the shopping center and the dispensary.

While the Jan. 6 approval imposed no conditions, Assistant Village Manager Ashley Monroe, who oversees the community development department, said the parking lot project would have to conform to village standards and that some conditions proposed by Pollock still might be agreed upon.

For example, Pollock’s proposal that barrier curbs protect landscape areas and a bike parking area likely would be required at any rate. Pollock’s suggestion that the bike parking be improved with permeable pavers also may move forward, because the village could use business district tax revenue to fund that improvement.

“I feel fairly confident we can identify some type of solution,” Monroe said of the paver idea for the bike parking area. “It’s certainly one of those applicable uses the village could decide to provide some [financial] support for.”

As for Pollock’s suggestion that a fence blocking traffic from 2710 Harlem Ave. exiting the parking lot into the alley to improve circulation, that’s a topic for future discussion. For now, the fence is part of the approved plan. Any change to that aspect of the plan would need a formal vetting by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which suggested the placement of the fence in the first place so traffic from the commercial properties would not impact the residential neighborhood to the west.

“That conversation is still evolving,” Monroe said. “Either party could come to the table [in the future] and say this is a better solution. For now, the plans indicate the fence will be there.”