An Arizona-based cannabis company has plans to open up Scottsdale’s first medical marijuana dispensary south of Camelback Road.
Sunday Goods, which offers a range of marijuana and marijuana-related products at dispensaries throughout Arizona and Southern California, plans to open a dispensary at 4255 N. Winfield Scott Plaza in a building occupied by Club Tattoo near the Galleria Corporate Centre just east of Scottsdale Road.
Sunday Goods also operates a greenhouse in Wilcox, Arizona.
Jason Rose, spokesperson for the project, said the company has filed a pre-application with the city for the conditional use permit it will need to operate the facility. He said the company plans to file its formal application soon.
George Pasquel, a planning consultant at Withey Morris who is also working on the project, said that while their application to the city will be filed soon, it could be months before it comes before the City Council.
The prospect of a dispensary in downtown Scottsdale has received a mixed response from local residents and business owners.
Gary Bohall, who owns property near the site, attended an open house hosted by the project team last Thursday and said he is reserving judgment.
“This is plowing new ground and we don’t know which way it will go,” Bohall said. “It sounds like they are trying to be careful but the problem is once it’s there, if it doesn’t go the way you planned, it will affect all of us.”
Marilynn Atkinson, head of the Old Town Merchants Association, opposes the dispensary. “I think it sets a bad precedent once they allow it to go in,” she said.
Not all area property owners agree, though.
Carter Unger, a landlord with properties throughout downtown who is behind a major redevelopment proposed along 5th Avenue, said, “I am completely in support of this dispensary.”
“There is a big misconception that some may still have that this type of business brings in illicit activity. It could not be further from the truth and, in fact, it has a lot of holistic and wellness-based ideology behind it,” Unger said.
Unger, an army veteran, said he has seen first-hand the positive effects medicinal marijuana had for some of his fellow veterans suffering from PTSD.
“There are now dispensaries all over the state and for the most part no one even notices them if they do not go to them as patients,” Unger said.
If approved by the city, Sunday Goods would be filling a need created by a lack of dispensaries in southern Scottsdale, Rose said.
Currently, there are four medical marijuana dispensaries in Scottsdale, which has a population of 249,950, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Several cities with similar populations in the state have fewer dispensaries.
One dispensary operates in Chandler (population: 253,458) and two more have Chandler addresses but operate on unincorporated county land. Gilbert (population: 242,354) has one dispensary and Glendale (population: 246,709) has three dispensaries.
Rose said the issue is not the number of dispensaries in Scottsdale but their location.
“When Scottsdale had to come up with new zoning (to regulate medical marijuana), they were incredibly restrictive and that is why the concentration of dispensaries is in the Scottsdale Airpark,” Rose said.
Three of Scottsdale’s four operating medical marijuana dispensaries are in the Scottsdale Airpark area. A fourth dispensary, Monarch Wellness Center, is located further south near Pima Road and Via de Ventura.
Scottsdale’s City ordinances governing dispensaries allows operators to put dispensaries in areas zoned for industrial park, commercial office or special campus uses.
The Scottsdale City Council approved amendments to the city ordinance in 2016 that increased the separation between dispensaries and schools or residential uses from 500 feet to 1,500 feet.
Additional protected uses with the 1,500-foot requirement include churches, public parks and daycares.
Justin Brandt, a business attorney specializing in cannabis law with Rose Law Group, said Scottsdale’s setback requirements are some of the most restrictive in the Valley.
Scottsdale’s 1,500-foot setback requirement does appear to be greater than comparable Arizona cities, though its protected uses are comparable to other cities.
In Chandler, dispensaries must be 1,320 feet from protected uses, including daycares, parks, schools, church, libraries and hospitals.
In Gilbert, dispensaries must be at least 1,320 feet from a hospital and 1,000 feet from other protected uses, including daycares, parks, churches, schools and residences.
Glendale’s dispensary setback requirement is 500 feet for residences and 1,320 feet for schools.
City Planner Bryan Cluff presented maps to the Council in 2016 showing areas in the city where dispensaries could locate prior to the changes and afterwards.
Prior to the changes, the preponderance of qualified areas were in the Airpark with limited available space in central and southern Scottsdale.
After the changes, the map showed that the only space with the zoning and use requirements in place to open a dispensary was in the Airpark area.
“By law, you can’t regulate dispensaries out of one of the CHAAs, or designated areas,” Rose said. “But I think it would be fair to say that when it comes to the southern part of the city, Scottsdale came very close to doing that.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services originally divided the state into 126 CHAAs, or Community Health Analysis Areas, to analyze data for disease monitoring. The agency later used these CHAAs to determine where dispensaries can be located.
The CHAA for southern Scottsdale currently has one dispensary, Monarch Wellness Center.
For medical marijuana patients living in downtown or further south in Scottsdale, the closest dispensaries are Monarch Wellness Center or other facilities located in northern Tempe or eastern Phoenix, all of which are six miles or more away from the southern edge of downtown Scottsdale.
“South Scottsdale has some of our most in need citizens, both economically and health wise; two things that are often intertwined,” Unger said. “Giving our residents access to affordable options in close proximity to where they live is the only fair thing for us to do.”
Rose said the dispensary has the support of the ownership behind the nearby Galleria.
In a press release, Sunday goods said it plans to redevelop the property “with a redevelopment that looks like an art gallery or something located at Scottsdale Fashion Square.”
Plans for the project show a coffee shop next door to the dispensary and a public park and public the ownership would like to put on Scottsdale land adjacent to the property.
Pasquel said the first floor will feature retail space for non-dispensary lifestyle-related products. The dispensary would be on the second floor and access would be restricted to those with a state medical marijuana card.
“I do know a few people who will be happy that a classy type dispensary will be added to the Scottsdale Entertainment district, so I would say I am in support of it and especially the location,” said resident Sandy Schenkat, who was asked by Rose to support the project.
The promise of a high-end retail feel does not comfort Atkinson, though.
“I have found that when someone wants to do something to particular building or do a particular type of building, they always say it is going to be high-end or world-class,” she said. “Those are words and phrases I have heard for many years, and it’s not comforting.”
Atkinson expressed concern that one dispensary downtown would lead to others.
“I don’t want to see them springing up all over,” she said.
Rose said he does not anticipate other dispensaries in the area because there is lack of properties that would qualify under existing Scottsdale regulations without significant variances from the City Council.
The project team worked with the city to identify properties that complied with city and state requirements.
They were only able to identify a small slice of properties east of Scottsdale Road in downtown Scottsdale, including the current site of Club Tattoo.
“This is the only (property) that would not require major new approvals,” Rose said.
Pasquel said the only potential issue involves the Christian Science reading room that is next door to Club Tattoo, because it could be considered a place of worship, a protected use that requires a 1,500-foot separation.
However, Pasquel said the project team would like to help relocate that reading room. Plans for the dispensary show the current reading room space being turned into a café.
A poll of 300 Scottsdale voters by Public Opinion Strategies that was commissioned by the dispensary found that 66 percent of respondents thought that placing a medical marijuana facility near the Galleria would be a good idea, with 24 percent opposed.
“Scottsdale is community that is (majority) Republican, so these are strong numbers in Scottsdale,” Rose said. “The one that jumped out at me is whether voters think dispensaries are acting responsibly or irresponsibly.”