THREE OAKS – Although the Marijuana Committee’s report was not discussed during the meeting, the Three Oaks Village Council’s Dec. 11 meeting began and ended with differing views on the subject.

The committee’s report was approved by the Planning Commission on the previous evening and distributed to Village Council members for discussion at a future council meeting, according to Village President David Grosse. The council has the option of allowing medicinal and/or recreational marijuana businesses within the village.  If the village allows either, the committee recommended writing a new ordinance, with specifics, to cover either or both scenarios.

The report includes several recommendations for the creation of an ordinance, including engaging an attorney, getting input from the community, creating an advisory committee, giving preference to local ownership and independent businesses, developing a point system for awarding licenses, further study on how the excise tax revenue is to be used and a review of applicable zoning regulations. The study recommends allowing no more than two retail outlets in the village, with one in the downtown district and one in the Highway 12 corridor. The full report is available on the village’s website under Document Center on the home page.

The Marijuana Committee met monthly since it was formed in April 2019. It considered both negative and positive impacts of marijuana sales in the community, actions of nearby communities, the economic impact on the village and its existing businesses, the effects on law enforcement and needed zoning ordinances.   

Members include Gene Svebakken, Planning Commission chair; Pat Breen, River Valley High School principal; Pat Mullins, village resident and business owner; Colleen Newquist, Village Council liaison; Angela Reichert, Downtown Development Authority member; Brendan Wagner, Three Oaks resident, and Rob Woerdehoff, Planning Commission member. 

The first item on the agenda under new business was comments from River Valley High School Principal Breen who said he represented the youth of the community and the schools. Breen said he strongly believed in the negative impact of marijuana on the youth and the culture that has been developed in the schools and the community.

Breen said he didn’t deny the potential medical benefits and tax revenues from the potential sale of marijuana, but he cited research showing increased usage in other states following the legalization of marijuana. He said his concern is the perception by the youth that recreational use of marijuana is okay and urged the village to weigh the negative impact on the charm, culture and wholesomeness of the village.

In response to a question, Breen said the use of marijuana is an issue in the schools, although not as much as it was when he came to the district seven years ago. He said vaping was the bigger concern today. Breen also said one of his concerns with marijuana use today is the difficulty in detecting its use.

“It’s not just kids smoking in the bathroom anymore,” Breen said, adding that its usage is hard to detect and gave the example of consumption by chewing gummy bears.

“It’s not a Three Oaks problem at this point. It (marijuana) is here,” Trustee Becky Thomas said after pointing out that kids are now getting it from home, the black market and elsewhere.

Later in the meeting, Mark Smith, a Sawyer resident and owner of the Green Door Marijuana Dispensary in Bangor, Mich., who has appeared before the committee and the council and is quoted in the committee’s report, spoke on behalf of the industry. He urged the council to look at studies done in Michigan where he said rigorous testing standards and regulations on media promotion and advertising are strictly enforced. Another resident also urged the council to make sure they read factual studies and not propaganda.

Committee Member Reichert urged the council to represent the people of Three Oaks which she said had spoken loudly many times on the issue. Reichert said she believes marijuana businesses would bring full time year-round jobs, increased property values, tourism and revenue which are “all things a small town needs to stay vibrant.”

The council also spent time on the familiar issue of the sewer lagoons, the sewer system upgrades and regulation by Michigan’s Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Department (formerly DEQ). 

Grosse said the village expects to hear from the agency next month on the next steps the village needs to take to upgrade its sewer system and obtain approval of its Industrial Pretreatment Plan.

Grosse said he also is expecting a fine from the agency and “will be surprised if it is less than $100,000.” However, he said he hopes the village’s cooperation with EGLE will result in some leniency. In the meantime, he said the village has been nailing down all the costs involved in the system upgrade so everything will be included in the grant application to the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Trustee John Pappa asked about the status of Journeyman Distillery’s encroachment on the village’s sewer easement. Village Attorney Charles Hilmer admitted it was taking time but assured Pappa it was not costing the village “thousands in attorney fees.”

“In the meantime, it’s our easement and if an emergency occurs, we will do what we have to do,” Newquist said.

Pappa also asked if the village knows of Journeyman’s future plans, adding he wants to be sure the village doesn’t spend money on upgrades it doesn’t need, particularly if Journeyman moves much of its distilling operation to Valparaiso, Ind. He noted that due to limited land availability, future growth in the village will mostly be residential.

Grosse said even if Journeyman moves its operation from the village, the sewer system will still need to be upgraded. However, he said the project may be able to be scaled back and he is gathering all the information needed for future meetings with EGLE.

Regarding the village manager search, Grosse reported that he received one qualified application for the whom he intends to interview. He said he would like to keep the search open for a few more weeks to see what comes up.  He also raised the possibility of hiring a retired city/village manager to help in the interim.

Later in the meeting, the council officially appointed Grosse as interim manager and approved a salary of $2,000 per month, retroactive to November 27. Grosse abstained from the vote.

Grosse reported some trees on Elm Street will be trimmed in March and LED lights will be used in all downtown lights because they use less electricity and have longer lives. He also reported that work will continue, depending on the weather, on identifying lead pipes in the village pipes and videotaping the sewer pipes.

The council approved a bid from L. E. Barber for Abonmarche’s revised plan for improved lighting, seating and landscaping to the Chamberlain Path for $77,000. Work will begin in spring. The project is being funded with a USDA Rural Business Development Grant with local matching funds.

The Village Council also:

• Approved the purchase of a new Microsoft 10 ProServer for the village office for $2,200 from BCS Services to replace the current 2008 server that is no longer supported by Microsoft;

• Approved a new five-year office lease with Berrien County at $8,187 per year, with the county paying the utilities;

• Sold 400 square-feet of village right-of-way around the light post at Ash and Elm streets to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which will be upgrading the light;

• Amended the zoning ordinance to include penalties for the enforcement of zoning regulations ranging from $75 for first offense to $350 for the third offense, with a maximum of $500;

• Approved Christmas bonus gift cards of $50 to appointed board and commission members and $100 for employees, with Reichert suggesting that the cards be commensurate with meeting attendance;

• Heard that the North Elm Street merchants are planning “Three Oaks After Dark” and will remain open until 8 p.m. with holiday sales and discounts on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 20 and 21.

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