Wife of clout-heavy builder pushes to ban all pot businesses from her Gold Coast neighborhood
Patricia Walsh, whose husband heads The Walsh Group, is seeking to create a “Restricted Cannabis Zone” that would stop legal marijuana sales from an affluent swath of the 2nd ward.
The wife of a clouted Chicago construction boss has launched a petition drive to keep pot shops out of her affluent Gold Coast neighborhood — and she is relying on a provision in state law that allows the city to ban all recreational weed businesses from entire precincts in the city.
Patricia Walsh, who is married to The Walsh Group Co-Chairman Daniel Walsh, filed a notice of intent March 3 with the Chicago City Clerk’s office to prevent any weed businesses — including dispensaries, cultivation centers and pot transportation and infusion operations — from opening in a patch of prime real estate that stretches from Division Street to the north, Elm Street to the south, Lake Shore Drive to the east and Clark Street to the west.
In her bid to stop cannabis businesses from opening, Patricia Walsh must now circulate a petition and collect signatures from 25% of registered voters in the precinct by June 1.
Walsh didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment about the effort, though she is a member of the Gold Coast Neighbors Association, which has been helping collect signatures.
A “strong majority” of residents in the area, which is a few blocks from where Illinois’ pro-pot Gov. J.B. Pritzker lives, oppose allowing proposed weed businesses in the area, said association president Vern Broders.
“We just don’t believe it belongs in the middle of our residential neighborhood,” Broders told the Sun-Times last month, adding that pot businesses could “give rise to more crime” in the area.
Both Walsh and the association are also pushing back against pot shops seeking a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, including Cresco Labs, a major Loop-based pot firm that has applied to open a recreational weed dispensary at 21-29 W. Division. That location falls within the precinct Walsh is targeting. Walsh is not seeking to prevent home cultivation for medical patients, although the law allows petitioners to try to ban that, too.
Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes slammed Walsh’s attempt to stop cannabis businesses from setting up in an area that’s already teeming with taverns.
“This area is a major entertainment district which is exactly where cannabis retail should be located and it’s unfortunate that one person’s case of ‘Not In My Backyard’ can delay [or] prevent the due process outlined in the law from taking place,” Erkes said.
Pritzker’s office has not responded to requests to comment on the proposed Gold Coast pot shops.
Next step: City Council
While cannabis sales are already prohibited in much of the downtown area, the decision on whether to ban pot businesses in Walsh’s neighborhood will ultimately fall to Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and the City Council.
If Walsh collects enough signatures, a 30-day public comment period must take place while the petition is validated by the city clerk’s office. The petition would then be presented to Hopkins, who can decide whether to introduce an ordinance establishing a Restricted Cannabis Zone that would nix pot businesses from the precinct altogether.
Unlike the process for banning local liquor sales, which calls for a referendum after the same percentage of signatures are presented, voters do not get to have a say at the ballot box on whether to ban legal weed businesses.
Based on the “significant opposition” from the community, Hopkins said he’s filing formal objections with the ZBA against Cresco’s proposed location and another nearby dispensary PharmaCann is planning at 12-14 W. Maple.
“I would be going along with the community’s sentiment on any issue where it was so clearly expressed,” Hopkins told the Sun-Times, adding that he's moving forward with his opposition “regardless of the status of the community petition.”
Well-known at City Hall
While it’s unclear whether the City Council will get involved, The Walsh Group is a well-known entity at City Hall. Daniel Walsh’s father grew up with Mayor Richard J. Daley, whose son tapped the construction firm to build a parking garage at Midway International Airport shortly before he stepped down as mayor.
The company has overseen the construction of the 606 Trail, runway improvements at O’Hare International Airport and the recent conversion of McCormick Place into a massive field hospital in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Since 2011, the firm has collected over $900 million from city contracts alone.
Similar efforts to ban legal weed businesses have also been launched in another precinct in Hopkin’s ward, as well as in portions of the 6th, 13th and 25th wards.