ESCANABA — Plans for the first commercial marijuana establishment in the town of Escanaba, not located on tribal lands, hit a snag Thursday when the developer found itself in a battle with craft retail giant Hobby Lobby .
The issue came to a head when the city’s planning commission held a public hearing on a special land use permit that would allow Marquette-based The Fire Station, LLC. to open a retail business. in the former Hudson’s Classic Grill, located on Lincoln Road and adjacent to the Delta Plaza Mall. Hobby Lobby, which is located in the mall near the site of the former restaurant, balked at the proposal, sending a letter to the city threatening to leave if development were to continue.
“Since opening, Hobby Lobby has had the privilege of serving the Escanaba community, however, the proposed use of marijuana in the mall threatens this continued relationship,” he added. read part of the letter, which was addressed to the mayor of the city.
While the letter repeatedly referred to the proposed marijuana dispensary as being in the mall, the land on which the former restaurant sits is not owned by Dial Properties, which owns the mall itself. That might not matter, though, because the property the old Hudson sits on lacks one key feature: an entrance.
The single driveway the property has connected to the roadway is designated and designed to be an exit only, and given its location, it is unlikely that the Michigan Department of Transportation would be willing to redevelop the driveway to make it two-way. . This means that currently the only way to access the property is through the parking lot owned by Dial.
“It’s not an entry and the MDOT will put their foot down. It is the state. It’s not us and they’ll put their foot down,” Planning Commission Chairman James Hellerman said.
This could be a problem for any potential development on the site, but is more likely to be a problem due to Hobby Lobby’s strong objections to the proposal.
A separate issue raised at the meeting is that five of the existing ten spaces supposed to be allocated for parking at Hudson’s are partially located on the Dial property, leaving only five parking spaces available for potential fire station patrons. While this is a major talking point on Thursday and may be a practical issue, it is not a legal issue that could be used to dismiss the proposal, as the order City zoning does not dictate the number of parking spaces that must be available on commercial properties.
Either way, with the possibility that access and parking depend on Dial’s cooperation and that Dial’s decision to cooperate is heavily influenced by the potential loss of Hobby Lobby as a tenant, the project could be in trouble.
“Hobby Lobby, we have a lease with them, and so no matter what the mall owners think, what we think isn’t necessarily going to drive that train,” said Brian Reilly, president of Dial Management.
The Hobby Lobby rental contract in particular “prohibits the operation of a main store, an electronic cigarette store or a store selling marijuana in the mall”, according to the letter sent to the city by the handicraft giant. It’s unclear whether other businesses currently operating in the mall would dispute the location of the fire station next door, but according to Reilly, clauses like the one in the Hobby Lobby lease aren’t uncommon for retailers.
None of the planning commissioners seemed surprised that Hobby Lobby took issue with being neighbors to sell marijuana. The craft chain presents itself as having conservative Christian values and is well known for being the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case in 2014 after the retailer objected to the provision of contraceptive care to employees, such as the the Affordable Care Act requires. In this case, Hobby Lobby was victorious and the court ruled that private for-profit corporations are exempt from regulations that owners oppose on religious grounds.
Ironically, the conservative values of Hobby Lobby may play a bigger role in the future of the fire station development project than the actual church located inside the mall. Concerns about the churches’ proximity to various business districts of the city prompted the city to remove mandatory buffer zones around places of worship.
The commission voted 5-1 to approve the plan on the condition that the fire station could obtain a legal easement to access the property. The only “Nope” The vote was from Commissioner David Mason, who opposed the project because of its potential impact on nearby businesses.