Cannabis dispensary seeks to open between Santa Rosa preschool and Trail House pub

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Santa Rosa planning commissioners are set to weigh in Thursday on a proposed marijuana dispensary that could present a new test case for the limits governing the expansion of the city’s cannabis industry.

The proposed Fox Den dispensary would be situated in an existing warehouse at 4036 Montgomery Drive, between the Trail House bike shop and pub and the Kiwi Preschool and Daycare in the commercial complex behind the Summerfield Cinemas. The dispensary would be open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., making deliveries during that time as well. On-site consumption would not be allowed.

Representatives of the bike shop and the preschool have voiced concerns about the dispensary, raising questions about illicit cannabis use by dispensary customers, parking scarcity and other potential impacts.

“I can’t take on someone who has consumed edibles, then has a couple Plinys, and then hops out into the world,” said Glenn Fant, owner of Trail House. “It’s not fair for me to be burdened with that responsibility.”

But proponents of Fox Den say security and extra parking will be provided. They dispute the claim that cannabis consumers might loiter and harm the neighborhood.

“It’s not a lounge or a location where people would be consuming cannabis,” said Nick Caston, a representative of the Fox Den project. “They’ll buy it and leave.”

Fox Den proprietor Scarlet Ravin, founder of the White Fox Medicinals cannabis line, is partnering with Dennis Hunter, co-founder of Santa Rosa based CannaCraft, and property owners Scott and Vinny Bagala for the project. It is set for a 4 p.m. Planning Commission permit hearing Thursday. City staff have recommended the commission approve the application.

However, the proposed dispensary highlights how city rules designed to separate pot outlets from schools do not apply to centers that care for very young children, including preschools.

Huia Clifton-Pope, who owns Kiwi Preschool, wondered whether some law doesn’t preclude Fox Den from opening so near her facility or another of the same type. She noted that the narrow gap where homeless people used to sleep is all that separates the warehouse from her preschool’s playground.

The cannabis ordinance approved by the Santa Rosa City Council in December 2017 prevents dispensaries that sell cannabis products from operating within 600 feet of kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools and other cannabis retail shops. But there is no such buffer required between a dispensary and a preschool or day care site.

A provision in the city’s old medical marijuana code prohibited dispensaries operating within 500 feet of a “youth- oriented facility” such as a school, park or preschools that supervise nine or more children. That provision was repealed when the City Council adopted its new comprehensive cannabis law.

Pope is concerned that people will loiter in the area after buying cannabis, perhaps high on one of Fox Den’s products. Her worries run several years back, when she said homeless people living in the gap behind the playground would sometimes be intoxicated and too friendly with children on the playground or uninhibited to the point of relieving themselves in public nearby. She doesn’t want those kind of influences to return.

“Some of them may not be in the right frame of mind when they’re talking to the kids,” Pope said.

Fant, the Trail House owner, said he was worried about what would happen in the summer, once his business’ roll-up doors open, creating an obvious attraction for Fox Den customers in search of food, drink or a place to relax. His concern was largely with those who flout the rules against consuming cannabis products on the property.

Fant cited Trail House’s numerous cycling programs geared toward children, such as summer mountain biking camp, as well as a kids’ corner in the bike depot. But a parent can’t bring a child into a dispensary, and though Fant thinks Fox Den may actually increase business at the Trail House, he said he was worried that he was “going to have a totally different customer base that will drive out the young families” and would take up available parking.

Both Fant and Pope emphasized that they were not anti-cannabis while insisting Fox Den was not a good fit for the neighborhood.

Caston, addressing Pope’s concern of homelessness and loitering customers, said Fox Den would have a security guard whose duties would include checking the back alley where transients used to set up camp. He said the company would not encourage on-site cannabis consumption and said Fox Den’s clientele would not be more prone to loitering or nuisance than any other nearby business.

“These are concerns that we’re hearing in a lot of places around cannabis,” said Caston, a consultant in the local cannabis industry. “They’re not unwarranted because we always have a fear of the unknown, but there are very strict regulations and operating procedures in place and also project-specific considerations that were made for this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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