Proposed Anza cannabis dispensary awaits final approval

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The building that currently houses Yilberto’s Mexican Restaurant is being considered to be developed as a marijuana dispensary. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

Both advocates and those opposed are anxiously awaiting the next Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting to weigh in on the proposed cannabis dispensary at the corner of Hwy. 371 and Bautista Road in Anza.

The applicant, Cannabis 21 Plus, is asking to develop the property, currently operating as Yilberto’s Mexican Restaurant, to create a retail marijuana storefront. This has not occurred without some community upheaval.

Cannabis 21 is based in San Diego and operates a string of operating dispensaries. As a provider of quality cannabis, vapes, edibles, concentrates and much more, their reputation is impeccable, according to Yelp reviews of the business.

A public hearing was scheduled Wednesday, April 6, before the Riverside County Planning Commission to consider Conditional Use Permit No. 210130, which is a proposal to use the existing 3,966-sq. ft. restaurant as a storefront cannabis retailer to operate seven days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The alterations to the existing building would include interior demolition and replacement of existing walls and fixtures, as well as exterior façade improvements. Mobile deliveries are also proposed seven days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., with the stipulation that no mobile deliveries will be scheduled after 9 p.m., as it is not permitted per Ordinance No. 348. The project would provide 30 vehicle parking spaces, including two accessible spaces for persons with disabilities, one van accessible EV parking space, a secured bike rack area and a gate-secured loading area located at the rear of the building. Landscaping and a trash enclosure are also proposed.

“At the Planning Commissioners meeting on April 6, we had 13 letters opposing the proposed dispensary at Hwy. 371 and Bautista and one letter in favor. No one spoke on the phone for or against and only one person spoke in chambers against it while the applicant had two speakers in favor who were both the applicants” Take Back Anza community activist Gary Worobec said.

The property, located north of Cahuilla Road, east of Bautista Road and south of Mitchell Road, consists of 1.74 net acres with a 3,999-sq. ft. restaurant building zoned General Commercial.

By a vote of 3-1 (Commissioner Shaffer voted No), the Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors take the following actions:

  • Find that the project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act pursuant to State CEQA Guidelines and tentatively approve Development Agreement No. 2100115, based upon the findings in the staff report, pending final adoption of the Development Agreement ordinance by the board of supervisors.
  • Approve business between the hours of 8 a.m.and 9 p.m., with the stipulation that no mobile deliveries will be scheduled after 9 p.m. as it is not permitted per Ordinance No. 348.
  • Approve Conditional Use Permit No. 210130, subject to the Advisory Notification Document and modified Conditions of Approval.

“It is interesting to note that we had hundreds of comments on our Facebook pages,” Worobec said. “Lots of people said that the availability of medicinal marijauna was important, others said that we cannot allow a dispensary in a Rural Residential/Rural/Ag zoning.”

The Riverside County Planning Commission made a decision 3-1 to move this forward to the board of supervisors. Worobec had sent a letter to them regarding the opening and closing hours. The applicants wanted a 10 p.m. closing hour, seven days a week.

“I strongly suggested that an 8 p.m. closing hour would be much better. Our liquor store closes at 8 p.m. and anyone buying liquor with his friends, Jack, Johnny, Jim and Jose at 10 p.m. would probably be up to no good,” Worobec added.

Gary Thornhill, the 3rd District planning commissioner, agreed and made a motion to restrict hours for deliveries and closing to 8 p.m. The applicant plans to petition the board of supervisors to restore closing time to 10 p.m.

As part of any approval of the project, the cannabis retailer operating at the property, in accordance with Board policy, will pay the base public benefit of $18 per square foot. In the property description, the retail space includes 3,264 square feet, meaning the public benefit payment will be $58,752, increasing annually at 2%. The additional annual public benefit provided by the owner shall be $66,000 with an annual increase of 3%. These funds will go to improve the immediate community of Anza.

“These funds could be available to put grass and irrigation in at Minor Park, develop a skate park for the kids, pay for expansion of Anza Trail Town to provide more opportunities to outside residents and businesses to explore our area,” Worobec said.

But some residents view the proposal as an infringement on the property rights of those adjacent to the operation. Many wonder if their property values will decrease because of the marijuana dispensary.

The Anza Valley Municipal Advisory Committee has asked the county to postpone the board of supervisors presentation until its Tuesday, May 24, meeting.

“The planning commission recommended approval of the project, and planning staff are now incorporating commission and community feedback in preparation for the hearing before the board of supervisors,” Joe Pradetto, Chief of Staff for Supervisor Chuck Washington, said.

Anza resident Ed Wall is putting together a group in opposition to the proposed dispensary.

“This location is very bad for a number of reasons and is opposed by all of the surrounding residents and landowners that we have contacted so far,” he said.

According to Wall, most of the surrounding properties are zoned rural residential, including contiguous bordering properties with many longtime residents. The next door neighbor’s house is less than 60 feet from the proposed dispensary and two nearby churches and other residents will be looking at a Cannabis 21+ sign and all the related activity.

“The dispensary plans to maximize its parking capacity to include a few more spaces, anticipating a much higher volume of business than currently frequents the small Mexican restaurant that has been in business there for many years. This higher volume of customers is anticipated and necessary to justify initial upgrades and remodeling expenses and the ongoing operational expenses including 24-hour security and lighting,” Wall said. “It should be safe to presume that the dispensary would primarily depend on through traffic traveling between the desert communities and other motorists from Southern California counties for customers.”

Additionally, Wall stressed that Anza is a rural community with average low incomes and people who often grow their own cannabis for personal use.

“How many dispensaries are located in primarily rural residential areas?” Wall asked. “Aren’t most of them located in business districts where the speed limit is 35 mph? One mile before entering our town of Anza from the south, the first landmark people would see would be a big sign “Cannabis 21,” a marijuana dispensary surrounded by residential properties including two churches. Is this how we want to welcome people to the town we love and live in?”

Considering these main concerns that Wall has touched upon, many locals see that this company has chosen a location that is unacceptable to not only the surrounding residents and landowners, but to many in the community as well.

“We have some momentum building to try to stop this business from being approved at this location, but it is absolutely essential that we get support from our community,” Wall said.

To voice your concerns, whether they be pro or con and learn more, attend the upcoming AVMAC meeting at the Anza Community Hall Wednesday, May 18. This issue will be on the table and representatives from Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office will be in attendance.

Feel free to send an email to Joe Pradetto, Chuck Washington’s Chief of Staff at jpradetto@rivco.org. Please copy the office staff at d3email@rivco.org.

You can comment now and send your comments to the Anza Valley Community Advisory Council at avmac.secretary@gmail.com.

For more information about the Anza Valley Municipal Advisory Committee, visit the AVMAC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AnzaValleyMAC.

To contact Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office, please call 951-955-1030 or visit http://supervisorchuckwashington.com/.

The website for the Cannabis Retailer applicant is www.cannabis21plus.com/about.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.