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Chester County Press

Township's ordinance amendment opens way for proposed medical marijuana dispensary

08/11/2021 01:52PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

On Oct. 4, 2017, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors enacted Ordinance No. 272 which amended the township's zoning ordinance and added provisions governing the location and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the township.

It read: “A medical marijuana dispensary shall not be operated or maintained on a parcel within 250 feet, measured by a straight line in all directions, without regard to intervening structures or objects from the nearest point on the property line of a residentially zoned property or a parcel containing a public, private or parochial school or daycare center.”

At their meeting on Aug. 4, the board approved a text amendment to the ordinance that clears the way for the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in the township.

The revised amendment now states: “A medical marijuana dispensary shall not be operated or maintained on a parcel within 250 feet, measured by a straight line in all directions, without regard to intervening structures or objects, from the nearest point of a residentially zoned and occupied dwelling unit or a parcel containing a public, private or parochial school, or daycare.”

The petition to amend the ordinance was recently filed with the township by Eagle Energy Systems, Ltd., the owner of the property at 716 West Baltimore Pike, a .77-acre parcel that is bordered by Kennett Tire & Services and LCH Health & Community Services along West Cypress Street in Kennett Square. The property is located directly across from the Penn’s Manor residential subdivision, which is surrounded by open space that is owned by the Penn’s Manor Homeowners Association and zoned R-4 residential.

After reviewing the proposed text amendment on July 14, the township's Planning Commission recommended the amendment for approval, stating that a use that is permitted by right should not be hindered by a setback requirement. They also recommended that prior to adoption the revised zoning code change be considered to remove the setback and allow the use simply as a use by right.

In a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, attorney Neil Land – representing Eagle Energy Systems, Ltd. – requested that the township modify the existing text in the ordinance to provide more reasonable and workable setback protections for occupied residential structures that had prohibited a dispensary to be operated on a parcel within 250 feet of a residentially-zoned property.

During the public hearing, Land was accompanied by Thomas Trite, the CEO of Harrisburg-based PA Options for Wellness, Inc., who is proposing to own and operate a medical marijuana dispensary on the West Baltimore Pike property.

“We have looked at different properties in the township that would be suitable for his location,” Land said. “This company has identified Kennett Square as a location they think is optimal for this proposed use. When we looked at different areas in the township, this was the one that seemed to fit the criteria perfectly, and it also seemed to be, at least in our gut reaction, less objectionable relative to other residences in the area.”

Land told the board that after analyzing the township's originally-worded ordinance, “we concluded that there had to be some level of safety, some level of protection that was being offered to the residents in the township,” he said. “Relative to the existing language in this particular property, there were no residents who were protected from this proposed use. But still, this property – in a zoning district that has a use permitted-by-right for this potential use – was prohibited from utilizing that right.

“If we extended this to where the residents are actually located, we felt that the proposal could still protect those folks, but in the same breath, allow this property owner to make use of his property in a manner that is permitted under your ordinances.”

Founded in 2014 by Trite, PA Options for Wellness is quickly becoming a leader in Pennsylvania's emerging medical cannabis industry, and was one of the first recipients of a clinical registrant permit that enabled them to take the lead in research on patients and patient outcomes, develop novel treatment methods and identify what strains of cannabis would be most effective with specific medical conditions.

The company has been working with Penn State on non-cannabis related research to explore the medicinal properties of hemp and flax since 2015, and operates according to a research-driven medical model that focuses on patients and their individual outcomes. On May 22, 2021, it opened its newest medical marijuana dispensary in the state, at 850 S. Valley Forge Road in Lansdale. Its other dispensaries are located in Harrisburg and Lancaster and another site that is being developed in Fogelsville.

'A cross between a pharmacy and a physician's office'

“From the beginning we have been focused on research, education and improving outcomes for the patients,” Trite said. “Our facility is a cross between a pharmacy and a physician's office, so no one gets inside the building who doesn't have his or her driver's ID and their patient ID from the State of Pennsylvania. They consult with one of our pharmacists, and they are given medication based on their need and their disease, and we continually follow those outcomes.”

Trite assured the supervisors that his company would quickly establish strong relationships with local law enforcement and fire companies prior to opening, to assure that the facility is not only safe but meets all safety and fire codes and requirements.

One township resident expressed concern that the proposed medical marijuana facility would eventually “flip-flop” and begin distributing marijuana for recreational use. Township Solicitor David Sander said that as of right now, the zoning ordinance only allows for medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana growers and processors.

“There is no legal use yet called 'sale or dispensary of recreational marijuana' so that use is not yet provided for in zoning ordinances,” he said. “We have to wait to see what the state legislature does in that regard. If that happens, there will be rules, regulations and requirements that [Kennett Township] will have to review.

“Obviously, the township may be constrained to allow for the use [of recreational marijuana] with many conditions and precautions and safeguards for the community as well. We're not currently at that point, and this company cannot just flip to a recreational sale without a zoning ordinance being amended to provide for that use.”

The next steps for the proposed facility will require obtaining a zoning permit from the township. Once issued, the project will require the design of its building layout – including parking – to be approved by the township. Once the project clears approval, as well as meets all township building codes, it will then proceed to groundbreaking.

No timeline for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary was discussed at the meeting.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].