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Council Hears Pitch from Cannabis Retailer

Diverse Requests Show Everybody Wants Something

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HARRISON – Having been previously appointed to the position of Harrison City Council member, Karen Hulliberger was sworn into office by Tracey Connelly, city manager/clerk, prior to the Sept. 27 city council meeting, slipping comfortably back into her former role. That oath of office solemnly swearing to: Uphold the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state, faithfully perform the duties of the office of City Council in and for the City of Harrison, Clare County and the State of Michigan, according to the best of her abilities, so help her God.

In addition to adoption of Sept. 13 council minutes and current bills, mayor Stacy Stocking welcomed Hulliberger back to the council. He also thanked the Department of Public Works staff for installing fall banners in the city. That was followed by Visitors, and a request they follow the standard 3-minute time limit.

First to address Council was Kristi Teall who spoke as a representative of the local chamber of commerce, addressing the Harrison tree-lighting ceremony slated for December, including a formal request for use of the Town Square for festivities, Santa’s visit, etc. Teall stressed having met with DPW Superintendent Sam Russell and Fire Chief Chris Damvelt to ensure that the chamber was not placing undue work on those departments. She also spoke of the previously approved plan to do a lighted parade, the participation form for which had been posted that same day. Teall added that in order to not compete with other events, the normally Thursday evening event would now be done on Saturday, Dec. 11. (Teall’s address took up a mere 2 minutes, 49 seconds and was the only visitor to manage the time limit.)

A motion was then made and approved to support the chamber’s use of the Splash Pad and Town Square for Dec. 11 festivities.

Next, Council heard from The Woods, a cannabis retail enterprise. Speaking on behalf of himself and his business partner, was attorney Dan Harris of Petoskey (who has offices in Petoskey, Gaylord, Alpena, Rogers City and law firms of counsel in Detroit). He noted their involvement in the cannabis industry, with locations in Detroit, Cheboygan, Sault St. Marie, and others.

Harris gave a brief synopsis of the 2018 passage of recreational marijuana, and the majority opt-out stance taken by communities in the state. He spoke to the parameters set out by the State of Michigan for those opting-in and setting the number of such businesses allowed by that community. Harris said a municipality could choose a specific number of establishments (which would lead to a competitive scoring process and work for the board) or control it by zoning which would limit it by geographic location and stated site limitations.

He described the five different licenses available (growing, processing, inspection, transportation and retail) and spoke of the municipalities’ tax benefit derivable only from the retail establishments. Harris explained that a 10% excise tax on those retail purchases goes into a pool to the State of Michigan; that is then divided 35% to schools, 35% to roads, 15% to the county, 15% to the village, township or city that has opted in.

“In 2020, that was $28,500 per dispensary that the municipality has,” he said. “This year [state fiscal year ending Sept. 30] it’s probably going to be $44,000-$50,000 per retail. That’s money that goes directly to you … no strings attached.”

Harris said it is not a referendum on whether or not the community likes marijuana, adding that he was not a proponent of it and does not use it.

“But the reality of it is that it is here, it’s been here, it will be here,” he said. “And the people in your community are either going somewhere else to get it where they’re getting the tax dollars, they’re having it legally delivered here – or they’re buying it on the black market. A big reason why Michigan did this program was to collapse the black market.”

Also noted was the extreme control on the industry and the rigorous vetting process to get a license, and the state’s tracking from seed to sale. In answer to inquiry by Stocking, Harris assured that the city would not be prevented from participating in federal programming [grants] if it opts in, as marijuana is still an illegal drug federally. He noted there was a bill being put forth, to take marijuana of the listing of Schedule I Controlled Substances (decriminalizing, but not legalizing it).

It also was note that The Woods sells its product at lower than street-value prices, as well as those products being tested for quality and safety – hopefully leading to reduced harm to the end user.

Stocking brought up the previously noted concern that the city would have to bear additional cost for contract law enforcement to police the additional activity generated around a cannabis retail. Harris assured that there is no correlation between retail stores and criminal activity.

Russell then pointed out The Woods is a storefront operation, as compared to a neighborhood operation run by hoodlums, and asked who would be the city’s preferred partner.

“At the end of the day, it’s a retail store,” Harris said. “It’s no different than a liquor store, a tobacco store – or, frankly a Subway. And after it’s there a week, people don’t even notice it.”

Then came discussion of employees, who begin at $15/hour with benefits and some tips. It was estimated a Harrison store would employ 15-20 people.

It was decided that Council would meet jointly with the Harrison Planning Commission at its November meeting, along with The Woods representatives and the city’s attorney to further explore the pros and cons of allowing such an endeavor.

“We’ve already had a commissioner from the county saying ‘We would love to expand the tax base,’ so it’s definitely on the radar,” said council member Mick Haley.

(The Woods’ presentation took 25 minutes, 4 seconds.)

At this point, Weldon Street resident Shannon Coulson approached Council offering a variety of individual available properties with ingress/egress and sewer/water which she suggested as alternatives to the Planned Use Development along Old County Farm Road. She has been vocal about that project, which includes extending Weldon to Old County Farm as well as completing a loop for water and sewer access for the proposed development.

Coulson argued that those properties could be developed just as easily as putting $10 million into a property “out in the woods” particularly since that investment would precede commitment by specific developers.

“I don’t think we should be developing anything until we know we have someone,” she said. “It’s ridiculous to spend money when we don’t have anything lined up.”

It was explained by Connelly that the road would cost the city nothing, as it would be paid for by grant money; the only cost would be match money for the water in an amount just under $200,000 – which includes water work for the entire city.

Further explanations included the fact that developers prefer to build new because it results in a project that is more cost efficient and has greater longevity. It was also noted that current property owner HAEDCO is a nonprofit, and by selling that property to developers would mean new tax revenue to the city.

Council member Connie Cauchi also posited that if the proposed development did not happen and Weldon not extended, if it was sold to a private industry it could well mean heavy trucks coming in via Weldon resulting in a the same increased traffic plus a possible industrial noise level.

“This is something that the community needs,” Cauchi said. She then spoke of the need to take her octogenarian mother to Houghton Lake, Gladwin or Clare to receive care. “We don’t have anything in here, and I think we’ve got older people coming up, and it’s getting to be where we’re mostly seniors – and some of these people could call a bus and take a 5-minute ride, instead of a 40- or 50-minute ride to Mount Pleasant, to Houghton Lake – and if these people are sick…”

Cauchi said she also understands that change is a hard thing, but that the development is something for the community.

When Coulson again referred to the HAEDCO property as being in the woods, Russell corrected saying the property was not in the woods and had been the site of an established, well-run concrete business.

Haley pointed out that the properties Coulson put forth were all commercially zoned, and could not accommodate the residential homes included in the proposed development.

Coulson also brought up a previously addressed objection to the City of Harrison having its phone number on the HAEDCO website, saying taxpayer money could not be used to place the city’s number on that site. Connelly explained that it is permissible as HAEDCO was formed through the City of Harrison.

The back and forth continued and, ultimately, the mayor indicated the city should set up a gathering with himself, Connelly, a Council member, the city’s attorney, and Coulson along with whomever she would like to bring. He suggested it include the engineer who had proposed the development design.

“That way answers can be given that are above our knowledge, from those people,” he said.

Coulson thanked Council for listening to her concerns. (Her presentation took 12 minutes, 32 seconds.)

Business then moved on, and motions were passed to:

-List the fire department’s Rescue 1 on a municipal auction site, setting a minimum bid of $50,000.

-Approve the second reading of Ordinance 17.050 regarding the 1962 definition of Trailer Coaches [which no longer applies].

-Approve an expenditure not to exceed $3,500 to DuroLast Roofing for repair and providing maintenance of the fire department/DNR roof.

-Authorize Tracey Connelly to cast votes on Council’s behalf for Michigan Municipal League members.

-Appoint Jaren West to the Downtown Development Authority, and Robin Stoner to the Harrison Planning Commission.

-Approving closure of Second Street between Main and Oak from 4:30-8 p.m. Oct. 31 for the Harrison City Market’s Halloween event at Town Square.

Stocking reported that Council held a workshop to begin planning for replacement for the soon-to-be-retiring city manager/clerk and will be reaching out to nearby cities for their job descriptions. The goal is to have that person begin no work the first of the year or before.

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