UPPER GWYNEDD >> Township officials are preparing to pass codes setting out an area of the township where medical marijuana facilities could be located, as well as updating the township’s definition of “family.”
Planning and Zoning Officer E. Van Rieker gave the township commissioners an update Tuesday on two initiatives the township’s code office is currently working on, and the board could approve drafts of both next month.
“Both have been reviewed by staff, have been processed through the Montgomery County Planning Commission, and they likely will be agenda items for August at the planning commission, and in August or September we would ask you to consider a public hearing,” Rieker said.
Regarding medical marijuana, Rieker said the township’s code department and internal plan review committee have been keeping up with the rules established over the past year by the state Legislature.
“The Legislature has established this as an authorized use, subject to a myriad of criteria, both for the retailing of it in dispensaries, and the growth of it by industrial growers,” Rieker said.
State rules require that municipalities allow medical marijuana dispensaries and growers be allowed in certain areas, but the municipalities can limit the locations, and Rieker said that’s the approach the code department is suggesting.
For dispensaries, he said, “we thought that we ought to at least define where we think they ought to be allowed, which is the commercial district as a retail use, subject to the legislature’s defined criteria, relative to isolation from various uses, like schools and day cares and things like that.”
For medical marijuana growers, the state rules do set forth some guidelines, and Rieker said staff are suggesting that growing be limited to one area only.
“The act does not permit the growing of the medical marijuana outside. It’s to be done in a building, to be contained, so we have elected to allocate the growing of the marijuana to our industrial district, which is a relatively small, compact district along Wissahickon Avenue,” he said.
Upper Gwynedd’s commercial zoning, where dispensaries would be permitted, can be found in several parcels along Sumneytown Pike near where it intersects with Valley Forge Road, Broad Street and Church Road, with additional portions of commercial districts on Broad Street south of Whites Road and at the corner of Valley Forge and Allentown roads, according to the township’s zoning map.
The industrial district is a roughly diamond-shaped area bounded by Wissahickon Avenue on the south, Church Road on the west and rail tracks to the north, and largely comprises the Station Square shopping center on the border with Lansdale, and adjacent properties to the east. The much larger limited industrial district surrounds it and runs from railroad tracks west of Church Road to include much of the Merck complex north of Sumneytown Pike, and a second limited industrial zone largely includes other Merck facilities on the south side of Sumneytown — under the first draft, medical marijuana growing would only be allowed in the smaller industrial district.
“We have to provide that use somewhere in the township, so we’re choosing where we’d like to see it,” said supervisors Chairman Ken Kroberger.
Rieker said the township’s medical marijuana code would be written to comply with the state regulations already on the books, and the state is in control of the licencing process for potential growers and dispensaries.
“It’s expensive. The licensees have to post tens of thousands of dollars for dispensaries, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get into the growing business, to assure that they follow the rules,” he said.
Solicitor David Onorato said any new applications would be subject to the new rules currently being developed, in addition to the state rules already on the books.
“The state is taking a very conservative approach ― approve a limited number of licenses, see what the demand is. If there’s more demand, which requires more growers to keep up with the medicinal need, then they’ll authorize more growers,” Onorato said.
So far only a limited number of permits have been issued for either dispensaries or growers in Montgomery County, and Rieker said he has heard minimal interest for any such facilities in the township.
“In Upper Gwynedd, we have only received one call for a dispensary use, and their owner has elected not to process it — the owner of the building elected that he didn’t want the dispensary as a tenant,” Rieker said.
“We’ll find out, but there are no pending applications that I know of” for either dispensaries or growers, he said.
Rieker and Township Manager Len Perrone said the zoning text amendment for the medical marijuana rules is currently being reviewed by Montgomery County officials, and the township planning commission would consider the update when it next meets on Aug. 7, so the commissioners could have a final draft to consider at their next meeting on Aug. 15.
“We’re really trying to stay ahead of this and be prepared, so if it is expanded, our zoning code is prepared,” Perrone said.
Another zoning code update is also in the works, Rieker told the board, and that would broaden the definition of “family” in accordance with recent court cases.
“This is in response to the ever-evolving court cases, which are basically telling municipalities that certain categories of family are protected, regardless of how you define it,” he said. “It basically gets away from ‘related by blood and marriage,’ and into ‘functions as a single housekeeping unit.’”
The updated definition of family is also currently being reviewed by Montgomery County officials and could also be heard by the township’s planning commission in August, and by the commissioners in August or September, Rieker said.
Upper Gwynedd commissioners next meet at 7:30 p.m. on July 24 at the township administration building, 1 Parkside Place. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit www.UpperGwynedd.org.