Zen Leaf expansion met with resistance by some Buchanan business leaders

BUCHANAN — A local marijuana business’s expansion plans got the go-ahead from the Buchanan Planning Commission Tuesday night, but the decision is not sitting well with some downtown business owners.

Planning commissioners voted to recommend Zen Leaf’s plans for approval by the Buchanan City Commission at their July 26 meeting. City commissioners had initially planned to vote on the Zen Leaf plans at their meeting Monday, but postponed action to get input from the planning commission.

Zen Leaf was the first marijuana dispensary business to open in the city as well as in Berrien County, opening in May 2019 at 259 E. Front St. It initially sold medical marijuana products but has since expanded to include adult use marijuana sales.

Zen Leaf’s current request is for a special use permit to expand into the adjacent building at 257 E. Front St. That building has been home to the M Staff Health Care Services staffing business. In materials presented to the city, Zen Leaf representatives said their proposal is in accordance with city zoning and that a provisioning center is an allowed use.

They said the business’s expansion into the new building will be harmonious with the surrounding area, will not change its essential use and will not interfere with the enjoyment of that area. The new space will allow for a bigger storage and staff area but also provide more “points of sale” locations. An additional 10 to 15 people would be hired.

Alan Robandt owns a business on Front Street and was among the residents opposing the Zen Leaf plans. Residents’ concerns centered primarily on how the expansion will affect downtown parking and traffic. People also said allowing Zen Leaf to expand will take another property off the market for other potential uses, such as a restaurant.

“Parking and traffic were the main concerns but also the fact that is taking up another building space for marijuana,” he said.

Robandt, who is also the president of the Buchanan Preservation Society, noted that he has been a longtime advocate for cannabis businesses in the central business district and has welcomed the economic benefits they have brought including more jobs and increased investment and tax revenue.

“We have reached a state of equilibrium in the community value added by our dispensaries,” he said in written remarks. “I do not believe an expansion of Zen Leaf by taking over yet another potential retail or restaurant space is in our best interest. … This is not anti-Zen Leaf, but more a wish to address the bigger needs and issues downtown.”

“It’s time to move on with the next phase of downtown redevelopment,” he added. “We need restaurants catering to a destination visitor crowd.”

Rick Paniagua of Cannavista Wellness has similar concerns. He said he is not against Zen Leaf but in favor of attracting other types of businesses to the downtown.

“It’s about thoughtful planning and diversification of establishments,” he said. “A stated investment of $400,000 [by Zen Leaf] in a building earmarked for ‘destination dining and entertainment’ by a cannabis company that will recover its investment in less than 60 days and become a permanent fixture in Buchanan is not what is needed.”

He said Zen Leaf could achieve a larger footprint for its business by utilizing the vacant building across the street at Front and Days that another cannabis company has yet to develop.

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