CA: Large-Scale Marijuana Grow Plan For Cathedral City Retail Strip Denied; Applicants To Appeal

Photo Credit: Richard Lui

If you’re a marijuana grower, you can put down roots in a greenhouse, or a converted industrial space, or a brand-new building designed specifically for pot.

But a recent decision by Cathedral City Planning Commission has blocked a marijuana grower from venturing into a different class of real estate: a shopping center.

Seven related conditional use permit cases – each filed by a different LLC, but all represented by the same person, Edlin Kim – aimed to divide the Mor Furniture store off of Highway 111 into suites for marijuana cultivation. The renovation would also include space for a paint shop.

Planning Commission rejected the proposals in a 3-1 vote.

“At some point you have to draw the line and I draw the line on this one,” said commission member Barry Jaquess, who voted with the majority in the May 2 decision denying the package. “To take one of the largest retail spaces in our city and say we’re going to allow a cannabis related business in it, I find it alarming.”

But the decision might not be final. City Manager Charlie McClendon confirmed the applicants have filed an appeal of the decision, which will put it before Cathedral City Council.

The proposal raises questions about the potential for marijuana cultivation to make or break local retail centers. Jaquess called the proposed grow a “a kiss of death” to the mall, while a representative of the owner, Sheila Weinstock, said the grow would help the mall to fill 100,000 square feet of showroom and distribution center space after the Mor Furniture lease runs out.

“There’s nothing happening in that center,” Weinstock said of the mall surrounding Mor Furniture, Canyon Plaza Shopping Center. “I actually think (the marijuana cultivation) will help it.”

Pat Milos, Community Development Director, underlined a similar point.

“The day of the big box stores is slowly coming to an end, and a lot of cities are going to be faced with that reality,” he said. “We’re not only faced with it here, but we’re faced with it at the Burlington Coat Factory that is now empty, we’ve been faced with it at Sam’s Club for a number of years.”

The vote to deny the applications divided the Planning Commission. Chair John Rivera, the only vote against the motions to deny each of seven related planning cases, argued applicants’ proposals met city and state rules on marijuana cultivation.

But his colleagues on the commission expressed concern that the cultivation circumvents the spirit of state rules intended to limit the size of marijuana cultivators. They also think mixing retail and marijuana cultivation in the same shopping center would cause nearby retailers to pull out, and worried about the smell of marijuana in the area.

“You’re going to have a lot more empty units,” commission member Michael Hagedorn said.

At Canyon Plaza Shopping Center, at least one shopkeeper welcomed the news that a marijuana grow was eyeing his neighborhood.

“I said, great! We want the center to be full. If Mor moves out, who’s going to move in there?” said Kiet Van, manager of New Fortune Asian Cuisine. He said he hopes employees at the proposed cultivation would help add to the lunch crowd at his restaurant.

Phil Goodge, a StateFarm agent down the block from Van’s restaurant, was less complimentary of the proposal.

“I’ve been here five years,” he said. “For most of those years, this place has been pretty empty.”

But in recent months, the center added a tattoo shop and a hemp store, and Goodge says he can hear rap music through the walls from the tattoo shop. He fears the changes have discouraged some customers from visiting his office – one of the reasons he’s relocating on May 29 – and he wonders if a marijuana cultivation company would make his location even less attractive to clients.

“If (the marijuana growers) are quiet, you know, and no one ever goes in there, with a few cars parked out front, what would I care?” he said. “But if I end up seeing a bunch of guys hanging around at night, smoking dope in the parking lot, that work there, yeah, that would concern me.”

At a hearing on the proposal on May 2, Edlin Kim discussed the project as a representative of seven separate entities applying to operate cultivation sites inside the current Mor Furniture store. The first is named A1 Canyon, LLC. Six subsequent LLCs in the group continue the same naming convention, following the alphabet up to G1 Canyon, LLC.

From the outside, Kim said, the proposed complex would look only like the entrance to Vista Paint, a paint showroom that already has a location in Cathedral City and plans to move into the Mor building. The plan, he said, is to completely gut and rebuild the interior of the building – and respond to any odor complaints promptly.

“No one will know that (the grow) exists from the public,” Kim said.

“The day of the big box stores is slowly coming to an end, and a lot of cities are going to be faced with that reality,” said Pat Milos, Community Development Director. “We’re not only faced with it here, but we’re faced with it at the Burlington Coat Factory that is now empty, we’ve been faced with it at Sam’s Club for a number of years.”

Inside, the project would be divided into suites. A floor plan included in planning documents shows “flower rooms” labeled A1 through E1 around the perimeter of the space, plus a room labeled “vegetation,” and separate spaces to dry, trim and package marijuana. Kim estimated the build-out cost at $20 million.

The goal of the proposal is to stay compliant with state law regulating the size of marijuana businesses. State rules limit individuals to one medium cultivation license until 2023, which allows them to grow up to 22,000 square feet of canopy indoors. But growers can also obtain an unlimited number of small cultivation licenses covering up to 10,000 square feet.

The structure of the business alarmed Anna Rodriguez, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission.

“I have a discomfort about this insofar as, this really is one business,” she said.

Jaquess was similarly skeptical. “That sounds like a workaround to me,” he said.

Other cannabis growers in Cathedral City are already accumulating multiple licenses. CP Logistics, LLC, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Sunniva, holds 21 temporary licenses for marijuana grows and nurseries in Cathedral City, records from the California Department of Food & Agriculture show. Other companies have accumulated two or more licenses.

As for combining cannabis and retail in the same shopping center, Jaquess proposed one possible solution: turn the whole center into a campus for marijuana businesses.

“Would you be willing to convert the entire shopping center to a light industrial park and only allow cannabis in the facility?” he asked.