Proposed marijuana rezoning sparks flap in River Rouge

Candice Williams, The Detroit News
·3 min read

Mar. 1—River Rouge officials are facing criticism over the proposed rezoning of land belonging to city officials and employees to permit marijuana businesses.

The Planning Commission has been asked to consider rezoning parcels at 150 East Great Lakes, 152 East Great Lakes and 154 East Great Lakes to include the Green Overlay Zoning District, which allows for light industrial uses, including marijuana facilities.

According to city property records, 150 East Great Lakes and 154 East Great Lakes are owned by Troy Newman Jr., the city's building inspector; 152 East Great Lakes is owned by city attorney David Bower.

Also proposed for rezoning is 10380 W. Jefferson, which is owned by CityCouncil member Karen Ward and Michael Ward, according to city property records.

No other properties were under consideration for a public hearing that was to be held last week, but the Wednesday session was adjourned because River Rouge officials said proper notice had not been given on the city's website. A new hearing date was not immediately available.

River Rouge was one of the early Michigan communities to opt into recreational marijuana after the state's voters legalized it in 2018.

In a letter to the Planning Commission, River Rouge resident Erma Thomas questioned if members knew that all of the properties on the agenda have ties to city officials or employees.

"Also, why is there not a public process for other non-city employees to get their property zoned for marijuana?" she said. "This seems like a true conflict of interest, but I would like someone to explain why this is not the case."

Thomas also took issue with the volume of marijuana businesses being considered in a one-mile radius.

In an email, Bower said he has secured interest in the form of a land contract for 150 and 152 East Great Lakes and receives monthly payments from Newman.

"As a former policeman on River Rouge's police department starting 50 years ago and its attorney for the past 30 years, I am personally acquainted with every member of the zoning board and they all know me and the others and exactly what they are being asked to vote on," he wrote. "Neither myself nor any of the others are faced with a conflict of interest either real or perceived. We don't have a vote in the matter."

Newman did not return messages seeking comment. Karen Ward could not be reached for comment.

Planning commissioner Vicki Dobbins said in a small city like River Rouge, people often know who owns property. Dobbins said the ownership of the properties under this rezoning request had not been formally disclosed.

Dobbins said she is not in favor or rezoning for more marijuana related businesses.

"There's enough cannabis," she said. "If they said they were going to ... put a small (automotive) parts company in this particular area, then I would say yeah, let's rezone that thing because we need that kind of money in River Rouge."

River Rouge has approved about four or five rezonings to accommodate marijuana businesses, said Karl Laub, community development director.

There are several dispensaries or processors along East Great Lakes and Jefferson. Those include JARS Cannabis River Rouge, Green Care and Herbology Cannabis Co. on Jefferson, and Herbal Healing Provisioning and 1st Quality Medz on Burke near Jefferson.

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN