Two of Santa Rosa’s top priorities — building new housing and legalizing cannabis businesses — are colliding in a simmering land-use dispute that could affect future development around the city’s new downtown SMART rail station.
A company planning to grow medical cannabis in an industrial building near downtown is getting pushback from housing developers who claim the project threatens the city’s long-term plans to build high-density housing near the Railroad Square station.
It’s the latest example of how state legalization efforts and the city’s welcoming posture toward the cannabis industry is triggering a “green rush” of investment likely to transform the city’s economy and neighborhoods for years to come.
“Cannabis, in some ways, has changed the industrial and light industrial landscape,” city planner Andy Gustavson said. “We’re kind of in this interesting moment. Can industrial uses continue to be complementary to, or will they frustrate the development of, residential uses?”
Developer Rick Deringer has some pretty strong opinions on that subject. He’s is trying to build a 185-unit apartment project about 1,000 feet away from a proposed cannabis cultivation project on Maxwell Court. He thinks allowing cannabis businesses into the area is an abysmal idea and contrary to the city’s plans to transition the industrial area to residential uses over time.
“It is impossible for housing to be built in an area with cannabis uses,” Deringer wrote to the city, citing what he sees as a variety of nuisance, safety, environmental and economic issues.
Deringer’s DeTurk Winery Village project recently won council approval but has yet to apply for building permits. The project, which Deringer has pursued for 13 years, aims to transform a former winery warehouse complex four blocks north of the station into one of the larger apartment developments in the city.
But Deringer thinks cannabis businesses are simply incompatible with housing projects like his, and he’s asking the City Council to step in.
The Planning Commission, on a 4-1 vote in February, approved plans by Fleuron, Inc., to build a 10,962-square-foot cannabis cultivation and processing operation at 60 Maxwell Court. Deringer appealed that decision and the City Council must decide the issue Tuesday.
Fleuron is a partnership between Brandon Levine, director of Cotati dispensary Mercy Wellness, and Aron Milhaly, who grows cannabis at an undisclosed location for Mercy Wellness. The friends say the property, which once housed a sign fabrication company, is a perfect location for indoor cannabis cultivation.
It is removed from residential areas, surrounded by other industrial uses, and in a building that is easy to fully secure. They say the building will also be outfitted with the latest and most efficient water, power and odor-control systems available.
“We’re going to remain as low-impact on the community as possible,” Levine said.
The pair, who’ve known each other for about 15 years, even chose a company name unlikely to give anyone a sense of what kind of company it is. A fleuron, from the French word for flower, is a stylized flower-like ornament.
Levine, who has operated Mercy Wellness for seven years, knew they might get some opposition over the location but said there aren’t many viable cannabis cultivation sites in the city, which for now are restricted to industrial areas.