An effort to rezone two residential parcels adjacent to the Cathedral City Cove neighborhood has stalled as the City Council looks for a way to allow a developer to construct a business park on the land, while prohibiting certain types of marijuana businesses from taking root there in the future.
The move to rezone the parcels, often a routine process, sparked an outcry from some residents wanting to limit cannabis businesses near the Cove neighborhood, while others who supported the expansion of the marijuana industry in the city urged the Council to “be progressive.”
The City Council voted 4 to 1 last week to table the item while two council members work with the developer and city staff to put together a new zoning designation which would allow a business park to be build on the location, but would restrict the type of cannabis businesses that could operate there.
Council member Greg Pettis cast the only no vote, saying he didn’t think the business park would generate much tax revenue for the city.
He also lamented the tone of the debate over the proposed zone change, saying the council members had been inundated with emails and blasted in social media posts by people who questioned their integrity and the honesty of the city staff.
Pettis said some of the commenters also attacked him for being a real estate agent who sold properties became cannabis businesses. He said many assumed he would vote in favor of the zoning change because of that.
“If you expect the city council to treat you with respect, than you have to treat us with respect and you certainly have to treat the staff with respect,” Pettis told the residents who turned out at city hall.
During the public comment session, the tone he spoke of was evident. People supportive of and opposed to the zone change called out other members of the public in their statements, a reflection of how divisive even the idea of new cannabis businesses has become.
Developer George Baker approached the city in July to request the zoning change. Originally intending to build a residential development on the land, Baker is now proposing a business park which could include office space and a brew pub. He said he was not proposing a grow facility for the lot, but he did intend for some of the space to be used for cannabis manufacturing or testing.
“My proposal is just to change the zone from medium density residential to a business park,” he said. “We’re not here to create a grow facility, we’re here to change the zone so we can get business onto this parcel.”
He said the development could create hundreds of new jobs in the city. Baker also requested a second parcel, directly south of the first, be rezoned to open space, which would block future development on the land.
Council member Shelley Kaplan said he would prefer nothing to be built in the area, but he thought it was also important to encourage business growth in the city. He also addressed the residents’ concerns about the spread of marijuana businesses in the city.
“I guess in some ways I’m going to have to take responsibility for that,” he said, adding he and his husband were the ones who started a petition to allow medical cannabis in the city in 2014, which forced the Council to implement an ordinance.
Mayor Stan Henry said he thought a business park could be a suitable use for the parcel, but he thought the area was already over-saturated with cannabis businesses and wanted to limit the types of pot facilities in any future business park.
Dan Jessup, an owner of Jessup Auto Plaza which includes Buick, Chevrolet and GMC dealerships, asked the council to reject the zone change.
“My family and my employees are concerned about the zoning change for several reasons. Mostly because of the pot, the security, the smell, the traffic. There’s a lot of negative concerns that go along with this rezoning,” he said.
He and other dealership owners have strongly opposed previous cannabis-related projects in areas adjacent to their lots.
Miriam Alario said cities can be identified by smell and Cathedral City was coming to be defined by cannabis.
“When one enters downtown Cathedral City, or our business district, or now even the country club communities, you cannot deny the over concentration of pot factories and grow facilities,” she said.
Richard Altman, president of CCBC Resort which is near the parcel, said he supported the zone change and wanted to see more commercial space built in the city. He said it wasn’t clear if cannabis businesses would go into the business park, but that the smell of marijuana was a part of life in the Coachella Valley, like the occasional odor from the Salton Sea.
Sue Townsley, a former public arts commissioner who said she lives near the lot, said she supported changing the zoning.
“I may be naïve but I don’t think that it’s guaranteed that a cannabis grow house will go there,” she said.