Commentary: Should the Downtown Be the Location for Dispensaries?

This weekend, we inaccurately reported that the Planning Commission would approve up to four Conditional Use Permits for cannabis retail business – that is not accurate.  The Planning Commission can only recommend, the council has the final decision.

There has been some controversy over placing some of the dispensaries downtown – and in the top two tiers, the staff has for the most part avoided downtown with only two of the seven top recommendations being in the downtown – one located at 325 G St and the other at 514 3rd St.

The Tier 1 locations are “viewed by staff to meet the zoning considerations and are in a location with a site layout that minimizes the potential to impact adjacent uses and the community.”  Tier 2 meet zoning considerations but warrant more consideration for the potential impact.

The sites in the downtown “warrant special consideration to ensure they make a positive contribution to the fabric and do not disrupt existing and future merchant activity.”  Staff also has concerns about Olive Drive, “given concerns about congestion at the Richards/ Olive intersection.”

Here I focus on the issues of downtown dispensaries.  Staff notes that the applications in the transition areas or edges of downtown “caused the most friction with adjacent neighbors and/or presented staff with concern in regards to compatibility with adjacent uses.”

Staff feels “that careful consideration should be given for locating any dispensary but especially the downtown area. Staff recommends the Planning Commission provide thoughts related to locating any dispensaries in the downtown area.”

As we noted in last month’s commentary, a key concern has been the idea that these businesses will generate between 150 and 200 daily customer visits per dispensary.

Of course, if you talk to potential owners, they will point out that there will be a lot of deliveries and that many patrons will arrive by bike or foot.  Nevertheless, even though we would figure that 150 to 200 visits would be spread out throughout the day or in the form of deliveries, there are concerns about parking and traffic impacts.

As noted in our commentary, a person who runs a marriage and family therapy business across the street from the proposed F Street Dispensary, at 416 F Street, is concerned about parking issues, claiming that, as it is now, parking and traffic are “out of control.” She told the commission, “It almost makes me want to move my practice to another city.”

In her view, allowing a dispensary to move into a commercial zone in the downtown, “it’s just completely to a point where the city’s going to shut down.”

Another person who operates a salon next door to the proposed Manna Roots dispensary at 117 D Street “questioned the impact on the downtown area of cannabis dispensaries.”

In her view, the impact “could negatively impact efforts underway to revitalize the downtown core area.”

As we pointed out previously, we want to have a thriving downtown with businesses that draw people in. We want people to come and spend their money in the downtown.  And yet, business owners are expressing a concern that a business that draws in too many people to the downtown is bad.

I would go so far as to point out that these businesses are not retail businesses but instead businesses that are probably better off not being in the downtown core area themselves.

I have had a chance to tour some of these potential locations.  Some of them have parking on site that would probably accommodate most customers.  People hear numbers like 150 to 200, but for some reason envision those people all at once, rather than spread throughout the day.  Assuming nine hours of business hours, even 200 people would arrive on average one every three minutes.  If you have a place with eight parking spots, even if you have customers staying an average of 30 minutes, you are not having a huge impact on the site.

Staff asks the Planning Commission to discuss the merits of the two different locations within the Tier 2 group.

All Good Wellness – 325 G Street

This location is designated as Retail with Offices in the Core Area Specific Plan. It is located on a block that has mix of restaurant, banking, retail hardware, and offices along with private parking lots and the G Street public parking lot. The location is in the Core Commercial area of the Core Area Specific Plan which allows for retail use but is not located in the more intensive Retail Stores designated area of the Core Area Specific Plan.

Good People Farms – 514 3rd Street

This location is designated as Retail Stores in the Core Area Specific Plan. It is also located on the Third Street Special Character Area which serves as the principal bike and pedestrian connection to the University. This location is located on a block that is within the City’s designated Retail Stores zone which is intended to promote a pedestrian shopping experience. It has multiple parking areas within walking distance. The block contains retail, banking, cafes and is located in the core of the core.

Staff notes: “While the locations are both located in the Core Commercial area of downtown, All Good Wellness offers some parking, is across the street from a public parking lot and is on a generally lower intensity retail/pedestrian activity area. The Good People Farms 3rd Street location does not have parking, consistent with other nearby uses and is located in a higher intensity retail area on the principal east/west bicycle/pedestrian linkage for downtown.”

One of the variables is number of significant concerns raised by neighbors.  That is a concern with the Tier 3 sites, with staff noting, “If an applicant was able to overcome some of the challenges prior to the City Council hearing, they may be able to be considered a Tier 2 location.”

This is a problem I have with this process.  We should be encouraging businesses coming into the core area that will draw customers – and hopefully customers who will then stay in the core area for other uses or to frequent other businesses.

Is this just Davis being unfriendly to new business prospects?  It seems like every time new things are proposed, the concern is with traffic impacts and parking, and the positive impact of the influx of more business is downplayed.

Still, at the end of the day, we have to wonder – are people really complaining that a potentially thriving business is coming into the downtown?  If we got a very popular restaurant, entertainment establishment or retail establishment, would the complaint be that it would draw in too many people and contribute to traffic and parking problems, or would we be thankful for additional business coming into the core area?

Is this really about parking and traffic or is it about the nature of the business itself?  And if so, why did so many people vote for Prop. 64 in Davis, if they didn’t actually want dispensaries?

And unfortunately, it looks like city staff is accommodating those concerns, by downgrading locations that have neighbor complaints.

I get it, staff wants to take the path of least resistance, and if there are two otherwise comparable sites, one that has lots of complaints from neighbors and one that doesn’t, why wouldn’t staff select the one without complaints?

I think there are other factors to consider here that extend beyond simple land uses, and one of the big ones is whether we think cannabis dispensaries enhance or detract from the quality of our downtown.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. John Hobbs

    ” If we got a very popular restaurant, entertainment establishment or retail establishment, would the complaint be that it would draw in too many people and contribute to traffic and parking problems,”

    Yes, historically.

    1. Michael Bisch

      True even today. That’s exactly what some business owners are saying even now, which is why the CC recently increased the parking requirements for restaurants.

  2. Tia Will

    a key concern has been the idea that these businesses will generate between 150 and 200 daily customer visits per dispensary.”

    allowing a dispensary to move into a commercial zone in the downtown, “it’s just completely to a point where the city’s going to shut down.”

    Hmmmm….I have heard at a number of venues and forums that what we need is a vibrant downtown. We need more thriving businesses. And now, I am hearing from a business owner that the presence of a dispensary in a “commercial”zone is going to shut down the city.

    I cannot help but feel that the objection here is not to “commerce”defined as an interchange of goods or commodities, but rather particular product. What the commenter has done is to take the perceived lack of benefit to her particular business and generalized it to the entire city.

    What I believe is that its location on a major downtown street, its projected volume, and relatively short average stay will make The Good People dispensary an excellent fit for this location.

    One question I would ask in attempting to introduce some objectivity would be: In similar locations, what percentage of visits to dispensaries in other communities have been on foot, bike vs by car. We seem to be making assumptions/opinions  rather than seeking information that may already be available. How about it top tier companies and or city staff ?  Any real information?

  3. John Hobbs

    The dispensary with which I’m most familiar, All About Wellness is located at 19th and S streets in Sacramento, across the street from a Safeway supermarket and high-end loft apartments. It has been in operation since New Years 2010. Traffic and parking are issues, but likely would be even without the dispensary, which has about a dozen parking spots in its lot. Walkers and cyclists probably make up about 20% of the customers and a nearby RT stop and light rail deliver a pretty good number of folks too. There have not been any real issues with neighbors

  4. Alan Miller

    There’s a dispensary next door to an espresso place I go to in Sacramento.  If it didn’t have sign saying what it was, I would never notice it.  No particular problems.

    Was recently in Eugene OR.  Many dispensaries in business districts.  No problems that I saw or heard of.

    I am much less concerned about any one dispensary than any one liquor store.  Davis had a 3-mile (I believe) radius from campus on those for many decades.

    I would have no problem if we OK’d all 14 locations and let the businesses that are best win out.  Start big rather than start small.  Why not?

    I heard someone doubt Delta Venus’ claim that many of its customers would arrive on bike/foot.  Yet I go there for food often, and most of the people I see arriving there are on bike/foot.  Doesn’t seem a stretch that their dispensary customers would as well.

    There is one proposed two blocks from my home.  I have no problem with this.

    I don’t use the stuff, and don’t particularly recommend anyone else do either.  However, this business has been going on in Davis for well over a half-century.  The only difference will be that much of it will now be out of the shadows.

  5. Sharla C.

    I had a chance to see how a dispensary operates today when I was doing business in Sebastopol, CA.  The dispensary – Solful – was in a small strip mall, immediately next door to the Sebastopol Senior Center.  There were also other businesses – a Starbucks, a copy center, a sit down restaurant and a couple of other small store fronts.  Curious, I checked it out.  I had to be buzzed in to the business.  Once inside, there was a bright, airy waiting area with comfortable seating, with both hot tea and water offered while you wait.  A receptionist requested a picture ID, which was scanned into their system.  Only then, was I allowed to go into the “store” – another room separated by glass.  This also had an electronic lock, but it wasn’t locked as I went through (or maybe it was, but quietly unlocked as I approached the door).  Inside, the products were displayed on shelves, with clear explanations.  There were two men in their 20’s/30’s  eager to help with explanations.  While I was there, there were 3 customers – a young man who seemed to know exactly what he wanted (came, purchased and left), an older woman walking with a cane that needed much more help in choosing what she wanted, and another woman who was quietly perusing the products.  The waiting area and the controlled entrance into the “store” seemed to be there only if it got busy and they needed to control the number of people in the product area.  The waiting area served as a comfortable place to wait that wasn’t outside on the sidewalk or in the parking lot.   I left and went outside and sat on a bench  and watched.  The area was calm, but bustling.  Other than Starbucks and the restaurant, most cars came and went, only staying a few minutes.  A Sebastopol police officer pulled in and parked right in front of the dispensary, got out and ambled away toward Starbuck’s.

    If the dispensaries in Davis are anything like this business, I think that having this business in the downtown will not be bad at all.  I was impressed by the well thought out design and the professionalism of the employees.

  6. Tia Will

    Start big rather than start small.  Why not?”

    I also appreciate everyone’s shared experiences.

    I do have a response to Alan’s inquiry. While I myself am unconcerned about the number of dispensaries allowed, I do have an explanation for why it may be prudent to start slow and assess local response.

    At a meeting for one of the dispensaries I recently attended, and in talking with representatives of several of the dispensaries, there is the acknowledgement that this type of business remains very controversial in our community. There are very vocal members of our community who feel it is a mistake to introduce them at all. Some of this I believe is based on stereotypes of the customers of these shops. Others have concerns about traffic, smells, neighborhood deterioration. If we have a few sites initially, and if the experiences are similar to those described by Sharla, Alan, and John, I think we may have a much smoother introduction than will be encountered if some opponents feel that “their city” is being over run or destroyed as one commenter implied.

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