West Hollywood City Council approved a controversial change to the buffer zone keeping cannabis businesses 600 feet away from West Hollywood Park.
City zoning laws prohibit cannabis businesses from operating within 600 feet of so-called “sensitive-use areas” — daycare facilities, youth centers, or schools within a park property. Parks themselves are not considered sensitive-use areas, but Tiny Tots, a daycare center within the park, would.
Developers of a new cannabis lounge, Fantom Flower, had proposed an onsite consumption area on the second floor of the historic commercial building at 8811 Santa Monica Blvd., formerly occupied by Flaming Saddles, where patrons could smoke, vape and ingest edible cannabis products, while a restaurant would occupy the first floor.
Developer Alex Kardos’ fatigue was evident as he pleaded with the council to let the project get back on track.
“Our commitment to the community has not wavered for one minute,” he said. “We are more focused than ever on providing the world a safe and classy business model that will make West Hollywood shine.”
At last month’s Business License Commission meeting, it came to light that city staff had discreetly altered an official map used by the planning department and others to determine valid locations for potential cannabis businesses, apparently for the sole benefit of a single new applicant, Fantom Flower. The commission halted the application and sent it to City Council’s hands to be reviewed.
City staff crafted a workaround to the problem by altering the map, re-centering the park’s buffer zone on the only section of the park that they believed required it — the southern parcel, where the Tiny Tots day care program will operate when it re-opens.
Supporters of Fantom Flower came out in droves.
“This applicant did everything it was expected to do,” said Oren Bitan, an attorney representing the lounge. “It followed every protocol the city presented. “And they are now obligated to a 10-year lease based on the zoning approval of the city.”
Genevieve Morrill of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce noted that new types of businesses in the Rainbow District helped to diversify its offerings beyond “go-go dancer boy clubs.”
Other cannabis business owners operating in West Hollywood were incensed, claiming the city had unfairly favored Fantom Flower when other businesses were denied the opportunity to open up shop at that location.
“This is about playing by the same rules,” said Jake Stevens. “The map was presented as an official document.”
“This is not about morality,” said Councilmember Sepi Shyne, who was satisfied with city staff’s plan to rectify the problem. She motioned to proceed with city staff’s recommendation — allow the alteration of the map and leave the process of updating the map in staff’s hands, something Mayor Lindsey Horvath was adamant on.
“I am in no way interested in speaking about specific businesses tonight,” she said. “I am interested in making sure we have a clear process to actually address how things move from here. We wanted to make sure this process was about the laws that were set forth not personal relationships (with councilmembers).”
“One of my concerns is that it will change the face of the Rainbow District,” said Councilmember Lauren Meister, once higher-earning cannabis businesses start competing for limited commercial leases held by legacy establishments.
Councilmember John D’Amico also worried the introduction of cannabis dispensaries would have rolling consequences on a larger swath of Santa Monica Blvd., and requested that Shyne add to her motion a provision that city staff perform a study to find out how many cannabis businesses would be appropriate in the Rainbow district, which she accepted.
He acknowledged the industry’s importance to West Hollywood and joined councilmembers in a 5-0 vote approving the motion. The project now returns to the Business License Commission.
“This is an economic engine that has driven important nodes of successful developments in our city,” he said.