Tight deadline, flood plain pose problems for marijuana dispensary in Fort Washington

The site of the proposed medical marijuana facility at 475 Virginia Drive.

UPPER DUBLIN >> Bay LLC, the company planning to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at 475 Pennsylvania Ave. in the Fort Washington Office Park, was not exactly welcomed with open arms at its presentation Sept. 12 to the township board of commissioners.

The township had received no notification from Bay LLC, operating as Cure PA, until an Aug. 2 conference call stating it had a lease on the property and asking about direction for the permit process, Township Manager Paul Leonard said last month.

In the presentation last week, Bay CEO Silvan Lutkewitte said it was required by the state to have the facility open by Dec. 29, though it has not yet gone before the Zoning Hearing Board to obtain a variance or started the land development process.

“Even if it worked seamlessly, I don’t see how that’s even plausible,” board President Ira Tackel said.

“The staff would have to drop everything to meet your deadlines, and we’re not even talking about land development,” Leonard said. “There are two 42-inch culverts that have failed on Commerce Drive,” he added. “I’m not sure it could accommodate the water.”

Six licenses to dispense medical marijuana products at 14 locations in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties were announced June 29 by the state health department. Cure PA plans to open three dispensaries, one at the long-vacant gas station property at Pennsylvania and Commerce Drive, one in Lancaster and one in Phoenixville.

Lutkewitte said the company has license holders in four other states, “places patients first” and would be “providing state-of-the-art care.”

The facility will operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily — perhaps fewer hours on Sunday — to dispense solids, oils, sublinguals and other non-flower forms of marijuana only to patients who have a valid medical marijuana card, he said. As required by law, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant will be at the facility, he said.

A main concern is that the property sits in the floodplain conservation district and would need zoning relief.

“When we met with you two weeks ago, we told you the constraints of this property,” Leonard said. “The flood plain conservation district does not allow this.”

At the street, the property is 9 feet under water, but it slopes up to 4.5 feet under water in the back, township Engineer Tom Fountain said.

The existing structure, which sits at the rear of the property, will be renovated and raised 4.5 feet, Chris Dawson, the architect for the project, said, noting the Fort Washington site was “the most challenging” of the three.

The brick building would have a new gabled roof, the canopy eliminated and “significant improvements would be made to the street front,” including hardscaping and benches, he said.

Cure PA may go before the Zoning Hearing Board Sept. 25 for a variance to operate in the conservation district, though Dawson suggested it might not be until October.

Fountain said the zoning requests made are for general relief, which is “not specific enough,” adding, “I can’t say enough is there to get behind it at this point.”

“We know it’s a huge task,” said Lutkewitte, leaving open asking the state for an extension. “We’re committed to working with [township] staff.”

Commissioner Rebecca Gushue asked that the architect match the building to the “more historical look” on the Upper Dublin side of the street, adding that “would be more acceptable to the community.” Noting the Whitemarsh side of Pennsylvania has an “ultra-modern look,” she said the sketch provided “doesn’t look like either.”

Lutkewitte said Cure had met with nearby residents “who had similar design ideas.”

The commissioners also wanted some assurance recreational marijuana would never be sold from the site.

“Recreational use is not permitted by law,” Lutkewitte said.

“Within five to 10 years, Harrisburg may pass recreational use,” to gain the financial benefits, Ferry said. “Is there a way to put a deed restriction on?”

Township Solicitor David Brooman said “a condition that there will be no recreational marijuana sales on this site without the approval of the board” could be required as a condition of land development approval.

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