A proposed medical-cannabis dispensary cleared an initial hurdle and will next go to the Sonora City Council for final approval.

The Sonora Planning Commission voted 3-0 at a public meeting Tuesday night to approve a conditional use permit and development agreement that are required for the project to move forward under a pilot program approved by the council in January.

“I’m happy how it went,” Jeff Muzio, one of the potential owners of the dispensary, said after the meeting. “I felt that concerns from the community and planning staff were valid, and we’ve taken the proper measures over the past year and a half to meet the standards.”

Muzio said he was told that the agreement will be introduced for first reading at the council’s next meeting on Oct. 15. If approved, the final decision could come two weeks after that.

Commissioners spent nearly two hours Tuesday night asking questions pertaining to the agreement and conditions of the use permit.

“It’s a really comprehensive document,” Chris Garnin, chairman of the commission, remarked at one point during the discussion about the development agreement.

The agreement would be limited to three years, after which the city could determine whether to renew the program.

It also would require an annual evaluation of the business and a “public benefit fee” of $10,000 per month or 5 percent of monthly gross receipts — whichever is greater — that would be paid to the city to mitigate impacts on infrastructure or other public resources.

“It’s a two-part, two-step process and being done in a very deliberate and conservative way as we introduce this type of business into the community,” said City Administrator Tim Miller.

Prior to the start of the hearing, Commissioner Gary Anderson recused himself from the discussion and vote because he spoke out at a council meeting last year against allowing any sort of commercial cannabis-related activity in the city.

That meant the commission’s vote would have to be unanimous because Commissioner Kevin Anderson was absent.

Past public hearings related to milestones in pot-related regulations have at times drawn intense debate on both sides of the issue, but about 10 people attended Tuesday night and most who spoke were supportive of the proposal

Carol Doud, of Sonora, spoke in support because she said many seniors and cancer patients in the community who use cannabis for medical reasons have to travel to dispensaries in other counties because the city doesn’t allow deliveries.

There were two men, one of whom identified himself as a consultant for the cannabis industry, who both complained to the commission about how they felt the process didn’t allow enough room for other potential dispensary operators to compete.

Both men sat next each other during the hearing and declined to give their names to The Union Democrat as they were leaving.

Miller explained that the process was hashed out through more than a year of public discussion, including months of meetings with a task force that made the recommendation for the council to approve the pilot program.

Muzio was also required to pay a $25,000 deposit to the city for staff time spent processing his application.

Another application is being processed by city officials for a second dispensary, which Miller said could go to the commission for consideration sometime in the near future.

The longest discussion on Tuesday centered on concerns about not having enough parking at the proposed location, especially if assuming the business would potentially generate $100,000 or more per month.

Paula Daneluk, the city’s planning consultant, explained that the city’s rules do not require additional parking when a project does not expand the size of a commercial building or significantly change the use of it.

The 525-square-foot building was previously home to a medical-marijuana collective that was shut down by law enforcement in 2011.

Muzio said he paid rent for a year on a space in downtown Sonora that he hoped to turn into a dispensary until the council eliminated that as an option through zoning restrictions.

The spot on Mono Way was the only other one Muzio said he could find that would meet the strict requirements, which includes being at least 600 feet away from any school, youth center, day care, park, or church.

Mike Mechanic, of Sonora, said he was previously a member of the collective when it was in operation at the Mono Way building and never saw an issue with parking.

Commissioner John Richardson said he received a letter of opposition from Symons Properties I, LLC, which owns two properties west of where the dispensary would be located and argued that the parking was inadequate to accommodate the business.

Symons Properties I, LLC, is under the purview of the Irving J. Symons Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to support the Sonora Area Foundation.

Richardson eventually agreed to approve the project after a condition was added for the city to evaluate the parking situation six months after the dispensary opens and work with Muzio to correct any issues.

“They’ve contributed thousands and thousands of dollars to the community and have a real concern,” he said of Symons Properties. “However, the product that is being talked about here has value.”

Muzio’s father-in-law, Ron Baker, would be a business partner in the dispensary and told the commission they estimated the amount of revenue it could generate each month would be about $50,000 based on the area’s population.

Baker, of Redwood City, said he has 40 years of business experience in mostly commercial construction, but also security. He recently retired and plans to purchase a retirement home in the area to help Muzio operate the dispensary.

“We intend to a be a small, community-based operation,” Baker said.

Muzio also noted how the state will require them to buy equipment that tracks every product coming into the dispensary and everyone going out, which he said will help to ensure that no one abuses the medicinal aspect of the system.

Other safety precautions that are required by either the state or city include a 125-square-foot secured storage room, an entry room to check IDs and doctor’s recommendations, and that every product be sealed in a container requiring two hands to open.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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