By P.J. GLISSON
Marenisco - Members of the Marenisco Township Board of Trustees voted Monday evening to explore how a newly-created ordinance could address a window to possible marijuana enterprise within the township.
Newly-elected Supervisor Bruce Mahler made the matter his first major priority while directing his inaugural meeting after being elected to the role on Nov. 3.
In the summer of 2019, board members had passed a previous ordinance allowing marijuana enterprise within the township, but that vote was followed quickly by a petition to put the matter on the ballot, and township citizens then voted it down in November of last year.
In that same month, the board voted to rescind the ordinance, but no action had been taken since then.
"I have been approached by people asking what's going on," said Mahler. "I put it on the agenda because we can't ignore it."
The situation also requires attention because, in recent months, a Chicago entrepreneur has voiced interest in using the former Ojibway Correctional Facility as a marijuana processing center.
"We have no ordinance that allows it and no ordinance that doesn't allow it," said Mahler, adding that it puts the township in an awkward position.
The sale of the property lies in the hands of the state, and this region's representatives of the state Senate and House have been working to authorize that sale by the state Department of Management and Budget.
Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, just announced that Senate Bill 1075 was finalized last Friday and had been sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to sign.
Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, has been working on House Bill 6150 toward the same end.
The former prison has been empty since December of 2018 when the Michigan Department of Corrections closed the facility, which includes about 70 acres and multiple buildings.
Mahler cautioned that it is not clear yet who will result in owning or operating the property, but he said the potential buyer from Chicago - who already has toured the facility and has a direct contact within the governor's office - so far has included a formal proposal for using the property to supply dispensaries around the state with marijuana.
He said that another person has expressed interest in using the former prison property as a health center, but he said that party hoped for the township to buy the property, which he and other board members agree is impractical.
The new supervisor explained that Building Inspector Roman Tauer has not been able to assess the former OCF site because of state control, but he said Tauer believes the value runs into millions of dollars.
"I don't know what they're going to say it's worth," said Mahler of the land, but he noted that fair market value is anticipated.
After Monday's unanimous vote, with all members present, Mahler said that he would approach Township Attorney Jim Bucknell to ask "what he thinks is the best angle" in relation to framing a new ordinance.
"We're going to get pushback," said Mahler, acknowledging that a considerable percentage of people within the township oppose marijuana operations.
"I signed the petition, and I voted to get rid of it, but I'm also pragmatic," he said, concluding that it's possible to approach a new ordinance and related zoning in such a way that "most people find feasible."
Mahler said that many residents have made it clear that they do not want marijuana operations downtown or in residential areas, but that they had "no problem" with such activity taking place at the former prison site, which remains surrounded by barb wire fence in a secluded area south of downtown Marenisco.
The supervisor, as well as board members, agreed that a specific zoning category could enable a marijuana operation within the area of the former prison site while also precluding such activity in other areas of the township.