By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck is about to get its second marijuana retail outlet.
But its go-ahead took some legal maneuvering before city officials signed off on the deal for a building located at 2024 Caniff Ave.
It’s a complicated story.
Initially, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals narrowly rejected a request made by Hosh Investments, LLC, the owner of the property, and Quality Roots, Inc., the would-be outlet retailer, to rezone the building, which is next to a gasoline station and vacant lots just east of the I-75 freeway.
The request called for rezoning the building from residential to commercial.
That initial decision came down two weeks ago. Days later, the owners filed a lawsuit against the city, and sought a temporary restraining order.
During the first Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, it was not known what the building’s commercial use would be.
But many commenters insisted that the building’s use would be as a retail outlet for legal adult recreational marijuana sales.
At the time, the owners of the site declined to answer repeated questioning by ZBA member Nasr Hussain as to whether the building was going to become a shop for marijuana sales.
Several commentators expressed what have become common objections to allowing such a business: that it would attract crime, and the products would entice children.
Despite the warnings by two city attorneys that the building had previously been used for commercial purposes, and that the ZBA can’t discriminate against a legal business, the initial request was voted down 3-2, with one ZBA member, Eric Anderson, abstaining.
City Attorney Jim Allen’s prediction that a lawsuit would be promptly filed proved accurate. Days later, a lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court to not only allow the zoning variance to go through, but also to put on hold a city council proposal to adopt an ordinance banning marijuana sales outlets from operating in the city.
That ordinance was proposed suddenly in recent weeks after a Holbrook Ave. marijuana sales store opened, and rumors had it that there might be others to follow.
It’s an ordinance that a previous council two years ago fumbled, and failed to adopt. City Attorney Allen said that failure to have the city legally opt out of allowing marijuana facilities to locate here, “sent a signal to the market.”
In other words, the message sent to would-be investors is that the city would welcome the marijuana business.
Councilmembers Mohammed Hassan, Nayeem Choudhury, Fadel Al-Marsoumi and Mohammed Alsomiri have now taken up the issue, and pushed forward an ordinance banning marijuana operations.
At next Tuesday’s city council meeting, that ordinance is expected to be adopted and set in law.
However, that law will not affect marijuana outlets already operating — or in the process of opening — in Hamtramck.
Councilmembers Ian Perrotta and Andrea Karpinski, as well as Mayor Karen Majewski, have been in opposition, saying Hamtramck needs the tax revenue, and that the concerns of some in the community are overblown.
This issue has escalated into a religious and cultural divide not only in the council but in the community. The conservative Muslim community has been active in recent years in opposing marijuana facilities to locating in Hamtramck.
Now, let’s go back to the Caniff building zoning variance request.
Last week, the city council voted unanimously to ask the ZBA to reconsider its vote no later than Nov. 30.
That was after a closed session where City Attorney Allen warned the council about the pending lawsuit, and what was at stake for the city – namely, paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, not only for the over $300,000 spent on the facility, but also for lost potential sales.
Allen said that if a court ruled in favor of the business, there would have been a painfully high court-ordered property tax mandated, in order to pay for the damages.
Politically speaking, councilmembers would have had to take the blame for that tax hike, which prompted those opposed to the marijuana business to reconsider, sources told The Review.
The lawsuit had one other tidbit, other than the usual threat of a financial penalty: Attorney Jeffery Schroder admitted that the use of the building would be for the sale of adult recreational marijuana.
So, on Monday, the ZBA held a special meeting. And after some comments from the public were heard, which were basically the same objections raised numerous other times, the members — in a 4-1 vote — agreed to grant the variance.
This time, ZBA member Anderson voted in favor of the variance, saying that his prior decision to abstain was based on the “dodgy behavior” of city officials about the site.
That ZBA turnaround apparently was influenced by the history of the Caniff site that was outlined in the lawsuit. In that suit, it was laid out that the building in question had formerly been used as a commercial enterprise: a laundromat, a cellphone/computer store and a sign shop.
In fact, the building’s use designation was tangled in contradictory terms in city hall. While it is officially zoned as residential, the assessor’s office considers it commercial. Also, the current owner of the site pulled permits stating the building was for commercial purposes.
While that was stated in the legal filing, city attorney Allen and an associate attorney of his had previously told the ZBA of the building’s complex history.
The lone hold out on the ZBA, Nasr Hussain, who is a former public school boardmember, still insisted that the ZBA had a right to deny the variance.
His main argument, besides being opposed to allowing marijuana outlets here, is that the owners of the site could operate any other kind of commercial business, including a bar, a laundromat or a delicatessen.
“There is no hardship,” Hussain said. “The owner has to put it to another commercial use.”
It was repeatedly pointed out to him, though, that the ZBA could not discriminate against a specific type of commercial use.
“You can’t say yes for this, no for that,” said Harry Kalogerokos, an attorney in Allen’s law firm.
As of the day The Review went to press, it was expected that the lawsuits would be withdrawn.
The Caniff operators now have to get final clearance from the state before opening.
Now that another recreational marijuana sales store will apparently open in Hamtramck, will there be others?
Another outlet is expected to be opened at the former Three Star Bar B Q on Jos. Campau and Commor.
A certificate of occupancy has been pulled for the site, and significant renovations have already occurred there.
There are rumors that other marijuana sales locations are in the works.
Those hoping to open retail outlets here are now in a race against time. The city is on the verge of outlawing further marijuana operations here, come this Tuesday.
Posted Dec. 4, 2020