clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is this proposed pot shop too close to a Catholic school? Parents say Michigan Ave. location is the ‘worst possible spot’

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) has also come out against the proposed dispensary location.

An overhead photo shows the location of a proposed marijuana dispensary at 1420 S. Michigan (in purple box on left side of photo) and its proximity to Old St. Mary’s School and church (purple box on right side of photo).
Provided/RRG Photography

A pot shop proprietor’s plan to open a second dispensary in the heart of the South Loop is facing stiff opposition from neighbors and parents raising concerns about the proposed store’s close proximity to an elementary school.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is slated to rule Dec. 18 on the fate of the planned weed store at 1420 S. Michigan Ave., which is less than 10 feet beyond a city-mandated 500-foot buffer from Old St. Mary’s School.

“This is a family community and we’re just concerned that this type of business is not going to fit,” said Sarah Cervini, who has a child at Old St. Mary’s and lives in the same block.

Neal McQueeney, the owner of Midway Dispensary in Vittum Park, is petitioning the zoning board for the special-use approval needed to open the new recreational weed store. Former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije is linked to the real estate firm that owns the proposed site, which is in Ald. Pat Dowell’s 3rd Ward.

McQueeney didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Idonije couldn’t be reached.

After Dowell declined to discuss the proposal with the Sun-Times, she told Crain’s on Monday that she’s “opposed to the location in part because my community is overwhelmingly opposed to having a cannabis dispensary there.”

“I have gotten over 400 letters from residents, condo associations, businesses, churches, and schools and they all have cited security concerns, which I share,” Dowell told the business publication.

Midway hopes to open a marijuana dispensary at 1420 S. Michigan Ave. (gray building) in the South Loop, which is down the block from Old St. Mary’s School.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Cervini and other neighborhood residents were also quick to voice their disapproval. Steven Dollear, an attorney who lives in the area, noted that he has three daughters who attend Old St. Mary’s, which he said falls just 508 feet from the planned dispensary site.

“Really, it’s the worst possible spot,” said Dollear, who claimed local businesses are also pushing back. “Just because you can do something — just because you’re 96 inches out of 500 feet — doesn’t mean that you should.”

The neighbors also fear that a bustling bud shop will create more congestion in the area and, like Dowell, claimed it could potentially pose a security risk, given that dispensaries are largely cash-only businesses.

During a community meeting in October, McQueeney begrudgingly admitted that a dispensary “adds more risk because people think that it is accessible for the product and the cash.” While McQueeney acknowledged that armed guards would man the store, he also tried to quell the security concerns by noting that his current dispensary was “beta testing” a system to accept credit cards that could potentially be used.

But McQueeney isn’t the first dispensary operator to get pushback from neighbors — or face resistance navigating the city’s sometimes onerous zoning process.

In August, the ZBA shot down PharmaCann’s plan to open a weed store just outside the Gold Coast after a neighborhood group staged a similar campaign. NuEra also backed off a plan to open up shop next to a drug treatment facility in the West Loop after Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) voiced his disapproval in February.

And in March, the zoning board went over the head of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and a neighborhood group in approving MOCA Modern Cannabis’ petition to open a dispensary in River North.

Cervini said she’s concerned something similar could happen in the South Loop.

“I know it’s a huge money maker,” she conceded. “And I know the city of Chicago is viewing it that way.”

Old St. Mary’s Catholic School at 1474 S. Michigan Ave. in the South Loop
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times