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KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Board members debated modifying the county’s zoning requirements for cannabis dispensaries before approving an amendment that would allow the facilities to apply to locate in the county’s agricultural zones.

The text approved Tuesday amends County Code Sections 121-99 and 121-209 with new wording that allows dispensaries to be placed closer to surrounding businesses and operate outside and run drive-thrus in extraordinary circumstances, in addition to existing in agricultural zones.

Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the suggested changes were dictated by the market.

“A dispensing facility will not locate in the middle of nowhere in rural Kankakee County; they want traffic flow,” he said.

Previously, dispensaries could only apply for a special use permit to locate in Kankakee County’s commercial or industrial districts, excluding municipalities with their own zoning rules. Most of the outer county is zoned for agricultural use.

“We have had few inquiries on some properties and would like to change the minimum setback from 2,500 feet, which is almost a half a mile, to 1,500 feet, a little over a half a mile,” said Delbert Skimerhorn, Kankakee County’s planning manager, while presenting on the amendment.

The setback dictates how far dispensaries would have to be distanced from the property boundaries of nearby “schools, playgrounds, parks, religious facilities, communal residential homes, penal institutions and registered daycare facilities.”

“I don’t have a problem with cannabis distribution. However, I’m very disturbed that it will be closer to schools, churches, playgrounds and prisons,” said Heather Bryan, who represents District 23. “I think we have enough land in the county to provide for this without infringing.”

Wheeler described the changes as a “framework” and noted interested dispensaries would still have to meet criteria from the planning, zoning and agriculture committee before being approved.

“I don’t believe we need a cannabis dispensing facility in the county, so I will vote no for this,” said Roger Hess, District 1’s representative.

Jake Collins, who represents District 13, argued marijuana already has a strong presence in the county whether liked or not.

“We may as well put a nice business on our tax roll and try and regulate and incorporate it as much into our society as possible,” he said. “These facilities are not places where people are selling joints to children out the back door.”

Recreational marijuana sales in 2021 in Illinois reached $1.12 billion at the end of October with over $123 million sold in October alone.

The board voted 14-10 in favor of the amendment.

Todd Sirois, R-3; Stephen Liehr, R-28; Tinker Parker, R-5; Colton Ekhoff, R-2; John Fetherling, R-7; Aaron Dunnill, R-24; Chad Miller, R-25; Larry Kerkstra, D-21; Steven Hunter, D-17; Bryan, D-23, Collins, L-13; Matt Alexander-Hildebrand, R-16; Michael Gowler, R-12; and Wheeler were in favor of the changes.

Those opposed were Hess, R-1, Patricia Polk, D-19, Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-18, Carol Webber, R-11, Janis Peters, R-8, Sam Payton, D-4, Raymond Fairfield, R-6, Antonio Carrico, R-22, Craig Long, R-9, and Kimberly Hudson, D-15.

Chris Tholen, R-10, Joseph Swanson, R-14, Erik Rayman, R-20, and Kenneth Smith, R-27, were absent.

In May, the board voted 15-12 to rescind a decision from 2020 prohibiting cannabis dispensaries to locate in unincorporated areas of the county.

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Meredith Melland earned a BA in journalism from DePaul University, where she worked as a web developer and editor for 14 East, DePaul's online student magazine. She has interned for Chicago magazine and WGN. Her email is mmelland@daily-journal.com.