Business · Fresno

“We aren’t really looking forward to this at all”: Tower District dispensary gets pushback from neighbors

With an upcoming appeal on the books, proposed Fresno retail cannabis dispensary Public Cannabis pitched itself to the surrounding community in the Tower District in a town hall meeting on Monday evening but was met with a bevy of concerns from neighbors. 

Public Cannabis is one of 21 dispensaries in Fresno that were granted preliminary approval for a license and will be located in District 3 at 1220 E. Olive Ave. 

However, five of the approved dispensaries – including Public Cannabis – are being appealed and will be the subject of a public hearing at a Fresno City Council meeting on Oct. 27. 

Three parties have the power to appeal Public Cannabis’ license approval: Mayor Jerry Dyer, District 3 Councilman Miguel Arias and Public Cannabis itself. 

Arias pulled the trigger on an appeal of Public, joining fellow colleagues Esmeralda Soria and Mike Karbassi in appealing applicants.

In a time when community outreach seems all the rage among the city council – with the most notable being for Club One Casino with the surrounding Granite Park neighborhood in August – Public Cannabis sought to get ahead of the scheduled public hearing and get face time with Tower District residents. 

The dispensary’s ownership group includes Chief Executive Officer Alex Calleres, Chief Operating Officer Chris Henry and Community Outreach Director and local partner Mushana Kelly, who is a Fresno native and a District 3 resident. 

The ownership group reported that it, as a whole, has over 25 years of combined experience in the cannabis industry. 

During Monday’s meeting, Public Cannabis showcased its security plan, which includes 38 cameras, 24/7 on-site security guards, alarms, panic buttons and a proposed fence around the property. 

The property around the building has a parking lot with 17 regular spaces and one handicapped parking space.  

Henry, who headed the meeting, noted Public Cannabis’ commitment to hiring local employees, especially those who have been affected by the war on drugs. 

Public Cannabis will offer a starting wage of $20 per hour, retirement plans, health insurance, paid time off and continuing education support. 

Henry said the dispensary expects to donate nearly $750,000 to local community groups, such as the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, by its third year in business. 

Despite the benefits that Public Cannabis’ owners expect to bring to the community, residents in the surrounding neighborhood were not pleased with the location of the planned dispensary. 

The location is a couple blocks east of the main drag of the Tower Theatre, placed directly near a residential area. 

A resident who identified himself as Matthew with the Alhambra Tract Association – Alhambra Ave. runs parallel to Olive Ave. just south of the dispensary – represented 15 other households. 

One of the main issues with the community is the potential traffic that will enter into the neighborhood. 

When asked, Henry said the dispensary projects to have about 200-300 people visit the store on its busiest days, which are expected to be Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with revenue expected to exceed $20 million annually.

The Alhambra Ave. resident, who initially contended that the store was set to serve as the equivalent of a “Wal-Mart” within a residential neighborhood, revised his claim and said it would be a “Best Buy” when Henry stressed the amount of customer volume.

“So 200 cars a day, if 10 percent of the people turn down the street, miss the entrance, that’s 20 people driving around the neighborhood looking for the weed store,” Matthew said.

“Now, you guys have chosen a location that is at the gateway to a 100-year-old neighborhood of residents that are long-term residents.” 

A neighbor who identified herself as Francesca Grousis also voiced her concerns about potential traffic, saying that she has seen other cannabis dispensaries have packed parking lots. 

“I’ve seen cars line up. I’ve seen people standing outside in a line, and that’s what we have to expect in our neighborhoods, not a retail area where it’s expected to have that kind of traffic coming in,” Grousis said. 

“We’re going to be seeing people standing outside in lines. There’s a potential for the lines coming down in front of our homes. There are going to be people parking up and down in front of our homes, and it’s just overall concerning that it has to be this close, that it’s in our backyard versus down in an area where there is just more retail. I’m really concerned about that.” 

Henry attempted to alleviate the traffic concerns, pointing to the fact that Fresnans will have plenty of other locations to choose from, which should prevent traffic from congregating at one single dispensary. 

“What I can tell you is from the experience that we’ve seen, and the amount of licenses that have been issued within Fresno as a whole, we really don’t anticipate the high traffic that you find in some other cities that may have only one or two cannabis licenses,” Henry said.

“There will be a lot of other outlets for retail and safe access within the city, and we just don’t anticipate an excess of traffic flow that will exceed our current parking allocation.” 

Nevertheless, the neighbors were hard-pressed to have their minds changed. 

The Alhambra Tract Association also questioned the high-security measures that would be in place at the store and wondered what the impact on public safety would be for the surrounding neighborhood. 

“This is not what we want in this neighborhood. This brings up security interests. You have a gate and high-tech to protect 1220 Olive, but what about my house? What about my back fence? We already have problems in the Tower District with theft and break-ins and burglaries, etc.,” Matthew said. 

“This, by your own admission, is going to bring problems. You wouldn’t be prepared to the level that you are if you weren’t expecting trouble, and it’s going to spill out into the streets. We aren’t really looking forward to this at all.” 

Henry offered to put together a review board that was made up of members from the surrounding community. The board – which he said is something he has done in other cities – would be part of the city’s annual license review. 

The board would be an avenue from the community for feedback to Public Cannabis and the city and would be a part of the renewal process. 

“Give us an opportunity to operate and see how we do things. We’re a little bit different from your average cannabis operator. If your concerns that you voiced come to fruition, let’s talk about it at a review board. Let’s bring it up to the city and the review board that’s going to review our license renewal, and hold us accountable,” Henry said. 

“We’re sitting here telling you we’re going to operate a certain style of business to a certain standard. We want to uphold that standard. The last thing we want to be is a nuisance, and we’d love to set up some sort of review board for the residents.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.