Flint, MI—For now, the former Raspberries Rhythm Bar & Grill in downtown Flint won’t be rezoned to allow for the creation of a marijuana facility.
But that just means Flint businessman Phil Shaltz is back to the drawing board on his plans for the building.
Shaltz brought a proposal before the City of Flint Planning Commission on May 25, 2021, to rezone the former bar located at 448 S. Saginaw St., with a designation that would allow for the development of a provisioning center, or marijuana dispensary.
Specifically, he proposed changing the zoning from a “D-4” Metropolitan Business District designation, to a “D-5” Metropolitan Commercial Service District designation. The latter is included in “Group E” which includes provisioning centers.
Shaltz said this development would bring economic growth and foot traffic through downtown, as well as high-paying jobs for Flint residents.
During the commission meeting, he presented the terms of a contract he would have as a landlord with a marijuana company, which included ensuring that employees represented Flint’s demographics, and received high wages and competitive benefits.
Shaltz said there would be approximately 25 employees, with about 75-90% of them being Flint residents. He said the percentage of minority employees would have to be proportionate to the percentage of minorities in the city.
Employees would make $18 an hour, have a 401(k), health benefits, and be given $2500 each year for higher education.
He also said that one half of one percent of the “top line,” or revenue, would go to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to be put back into the community. The other half of one percent, would go to another nonprofit to benefit the community, he said.
If the center sold $10 million in a year, that means $50,000 would be given to each of the two organizations.
“I believe that that’s unheard of,” Shaltz said. “I think it’s groundbreaking, and I think it sets the stage for other provisioning centers.”
Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist and public health professional who has been working with Shaltz on this project, echoed that statement in their presentation.
“I think what we’ve created here and the opportunity that’s before us is one that’s transformative, it’s unparalleled, and it’s unique,” she said. “There’s so many people who’ve been negatively impacted unfairly by drug laws, who remained in prisons and in jails, who are watching other people now benefit and profit from an industry that ruined their lives and disrupted their families and their communities.”
Shaltz said he had 48 letters from Flint residents and business owners in support of the project, and several of them spoke during the public hearing. There were people who spoke against the project as well, some simply opposed to having a dispensary downtown.
For the commissioners, the project wasn’t the problem. It was about the rules.
Commissioners said this rezoning application looked like “spot zoning,” an illegal practice that gives a sort of special treatment to one parcel of land, disregarding the zoning designations surrounding it.
Because the application Shaltz submitted was for a rezoning of one particular parcel in the middle of several other parcels, commissioners thought this seemed too much like spot zoning.
Additionally, even if the commission were to change the zoning, the dispensary would still go against zoning guidelines. One of the rules for provisioning centers is that the facility cannot be within 500 feet of a place of worship. In the case of this location, it is too close to the Salvation Army located at 211 W. Kearsley St. to be legal.
“If this was a Special Regulated Use application before me, I think I would have a pretty clear idea that I would be in support, but that is not what is before us tonight,” said Commissioner Carol-Anne Blower. “This is a rezoning…so although I am in favor of this project, the presentation, the speakers, tonight the rezoning I am not in favor of.”
Other commissioners said the same thing, and encouraged Shaltz to pursue other avenues for the project.
Since that meeting, Shaltz said he is now in the process of doing his “due diligence” to work with experts and figure out potential next steps for the provisioning center project, or figure out something else to do with the property.
He said looking for another property that is already zoned properly to create the dispensary is “not in the cards right now.”