The opening of a marijuana store in the former Hamilton Home Bakery in Saginaw was approved

SAGINAW, MI — Despite objections from former and current elected leaders, the ownership of a marijuana dispensary chain may go ahead with plans to open a new facility inside the former Hamilton Home Bakery in Saginaw.

Saginaw’s 5-member Board of Zoning Appeals at a meeting on Wednesday, February 1st unanimously approved to remove an ordinance hurdle preventing developers of Premier Provisioning from opening a dispensary in the former bakery building at 1030 Gratiot, near from the Brockway intersection.

The owners have said they plan to invest $1.5 million in remodeling the building, tearing down a neighboring facility and beautifying the vacant corner.

The zoning board’s decision went against comments provided by the Saginaw City Council. In a vote nine days earlier, the council did not support the waiver to circumvent a Saginaw ordinance that prohibited marijuana dispensaries from opening within 250 feet of public parks. The proposed site is located 208 feet from Fordney Park.

But the council’s vote was not a death blow to the waiver quest; City officials said it was merely a recommendation that the zoning board could, and ultimately did, ignore this week.

Among the zoning board members who approved the waiver was George Copeland, one of four Saginaw council members who voted against the recommendation during a council vote last week.

On Wednesday, some zoning board members, including Copeland, mentioned the inevitability of the corner dispensary development when explaining their votes.

Another group of marijuana dispensaries last year outlined plans to build a retail site in the neighboring building, the former West Side Discount Building, 1014 Gratiot, which sits just outside the ordinance’s 250-foot public park distance limit, authorities said. That original plan was far enough along in development that it received the approval of city leaders.

But that group withdrew before Premier Provisioning stepped in, altering earlier plans for a dispensary to open in the old bakery next door. The Premier Provisioning ownership planned instead to demolish the old West Side Discount facility and install landscaping there.

If the zoning board did not approve the waiver by Wednesday, members acknowledged the likelihood that Premier Provisioning would simply go along with the earlier plan to open the dispensary in the former West Side Discount building.

Developers at Premier Provisioning said the loss of profits in that scenario would mean a longtime traffic hazard, the West Side Discount building, would remain standing. To drive home the point, officials read a letter Wednesday from Saginaw City Engineer Travis Hare. He described how the building served as a visual obstruction that historically caused traffic accidents for motorists driving through the sharp-angled intersection of Gratiot and Brockway.

“This is kind of a win-win,” said zoning board chairman Dennis Browning, a former Saginaw councilman and mayor, before endorsing the waiver. “I’m going to vote yes to the effect that (the dispensary) is going to be there anyway, and this is a better way.”

Browning and his fellow zoning board members heard objections Wednesday from members of the audience, including one of his predecessors as mayor.

Former Saginaw Mayor Joyce Seals, now a member of the Saginaw Public Schools Board of Education, cited a school survey indicating that children were encouraged to use marijuana in part because of the presence of weed dispensaries throughout the community. Four dispensaries operate within the city.

Seals during his speech Wednesday before the zoning board criticized the City Council’s decision three years ago to allow the retail sale of marijuana in Saginaw. The council opted out of Michigan’s recreational marijuana system in July 2019, but a year later, allowed a “sunset clause” in the original ordinance that blocked marijuana businesses in the city from expiring in 2020.

“It’s bad enough that we’ve decided to do this in our community, and that’s why we have a proliferation of all these places,” said Seals, who last served on the council in 2010. “It just makes my heart sad.”

Adding to his desperation, Seals said, was the plan to open the dispensary inside a building that once housed a beloved community business. Since its opening in 1946, Hamilton Home Bakery has been a popular destination for generations of customers from Saginaw and surrounding communities. The bakery sold its last donut on December 31, 2021, after owners Diane and Chuck Kemerer decided to retire.

“They knew me by name,” Seals told the zoning board Wednesday. “You are not honoring them by putting a dispensary there. It is a shame for that place, which served this community with honor and dignity. I am totally against this.”

Other attendees at the meeting spoke in favor of Premier Provisioning, which already operates a marijuana store in Saginaw, including a neighbor who lives just a few yards from the neighborhood of the old bakery.

Brian Lagalo, owner of Tony’s Original Restaurants across the street from the old bakery, also expressed support for plans to host a marijuana dispensary there.

“You can see the beauty that it will bring back to the City of Saginaw, instead of abandoned buildings,” Lagalo told the zoning board before their vote.

Along with Browning and Copeland, the Saginaw Zoning Appeals Board includes another credentialed City Council member: former Councilwoman Jamie Forbes. Bruce Gale and Jack Nash are the other two voting members of the zoning board. Carly Hammond serves as an alternate member. She was not called to vote on Wednesday.

The group meets as a governing body when called upon to address property-related appeals to the city’s zoning code.

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