By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
On Aug. 25, the San Diego Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve what will likely be the final legal medical marijuana dispensary allowed in the city of San Diego.
In getting the commission to approve the medical marijuana business, the dispensary, which will be located at 3455 Camino del Rio South in Mission Valley, benefited from recent changes to the city’s code regarding how to determine proximity to parks and a nearby church’s lack of permits.
Getting approval has not been easy. In July 2015, the dispensary failed to receive a recommendation from the Mission Valley Planning Group and in October 2015, the Planning Commission also rejected the application, citing the dispensary location’s proximity to the open space behind the building that local residents referred to as Indian Hill Park.
The dispensary appealed that October 2015 decision on the grounds that Indian Hill Park wasn’t zoned residential, not listed in the community plan, or listed with the city as a current or future population-based park and is not ADA compliant.
In March of this year, the Planning Commission changed its rules regarding how distance to nearby parks are measured. Indian Hill Park is 750 feet away from the dispensary if measured as a bird flies, but new rules make the 300-foot topographical barrier — a steep cliff —between the park and the dispensary have to be measured by “most direct route,” which would be much further because the park is only accessed from Cromwell Court in the Talmadge neighborhood.
However, one resident disagreed with the Planning Commission’s assessment of the topographical barrier between Indian Hill Park and the new dispensary. Carol Green argued that the steep incline to Indian Hill Park is still being used as an access point to the park by people who climb the hill, even though it is not an official trail.
“It does meet the definition of a park and it is accessible as long as you are younger, fitter and wear the right shoes,” she said.
Another issue that could have prevented the dispensary’s approval was its proximity to a nearby church. Word For Life Ministries began operating in an office building at 3505 Camino del Rio South, Suite 160 in June of this year. The location is within 250 feet of the dispensary. Code in San Diego prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a church.
“It’s an open question whether [the church is] even an allowed use at all [at the office building],” argued Phil Rath, an attorney representing the dispensary applicant. “We wish them no ill will and we wish them the ability to be there, but holding it against this application would be imprudent and patently unfair.”
Pastor Joel Bowden argued that Word For Life Ministries offers more than just spiritual guidance and that being close to a medical marijuana dispensary could hinder some of their community outreach programs, especially programs with schoolchildren.
“Obviously as a pastor and as a church, we would be concerned regarding the use of this facility for the intended purpose of medical marijuana distribution,” he said. “I do not believe that that would be compatible with the area.”
The Planning Commission, however, determined that the church did not obtain the proper change of use permits and staff recommended approval because the church was in violation.
The Planning Commission then voted to approve the dispensary, making it the city of San Diego’s 15th. Despite the fact that the city’s code allows for four legal dispensaries in each council district for a total of 36, the strict zoning laws about proximity to parks, schools and churches make any other dispensary unlikely to get approval. In fact, there are no other applications for new dispensaries at this time.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.