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Medical marijuana dispensary at Tastee Diner site dealt a setback

Loud applause broke out at a city of Laurel planning commission meeting last week when a plan to replace Tastee Diner, an iconic city landmark, with a medical marijuana dispensary was rejected by the commissioners.

In a unanimous vote on Dec. 11, the five-member city of Laurel planning commission voted against granting a permit to Pure Hana Synergy for a medical marijuana dispensary at the site on southbound Washington Boulevard.

Last December, the planning commission unanimously approved a special exception application for the licensed facility Blu Pharms to put a dispensary in the Tower Plaza Center at the intersection of Route 1 and Cherry Lane, a mile south of the diner.

Two medical marijuana dispensaries already exist in a two-mile radius from the diner’s location, Revolution Releaf, located less than a mile from the diner in Howard County and one in Laurel, slated to open within 30 days.

“I strongly believe that we have adequate coverage of medical marijuana,” said Commissioner Rick Wilson, who proposed the motion to deny the permit for Pure Hana Synergy, citing three existing dispensaries.

“I don't believe we need another dispensary.” Wilson said, which community members reacted with its first round of applause.

The plan has led to backlash from residents, as well as others, who want the historic Comac-style diner preserved or even moved.

At the meeting, Jhanna Levin, president of the Laurel Historical Society, stressed that the society was not against the sale of the property, nor the construction of the dispensary.

“We are, however, still opposed to the way in which the structure intends to be built,” she said. “This adaptive reuse essentially destroys Laurel's distinction as being the home of only one of two remaining 1951 Comac diner cars left in existence anywhere.”

Levin also spoke at the Nov. 26 city council meeting, expressing her worry the intended plans of the diner would “feel like sifting through the scraps from a terrible wreckage.” She reiterated that at last week’s meeting.

Francesca DeMauro-Palminteri, founder and owner of Pure Hana Synergy, reached an agreement last month with Laurel Mayor Craig Moe to keep the Tastee Diner in its location and to incorporate its exterior features into the building’s use. She even agreed to placing a plaque stating the building’s historic significance as well as silhouettes in the windows.

For 87 years, a diner has occupied the Washington Boulevard Site. The current Comac-style diner was built in 1951 and delivered by truck to Laurel from New Jersey after the previous diner was moved to Baltimore. In 1967, Gene Wilkes brought the diner into his Tastee Diner Chain, renaming it the Tastee Diner. He purchased the property in 1982.

DeMauro-Palminteri said she has been searching for a site to open her business for nearly three years, looking at 200 possible sites in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

“It is really, really important to me that the people that we serve are our neighbors and our friends and we can look out for each other, because that is what this medicine is about, about providing relief for people that need it,” DeMauro-Palminteri said, at the Dec. 11 meeting.

DeMauro-Palminteri, a Rockville resident, is looking to have the dispensary open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and employ between 15 and 20 people.

The purchase of the Tastee Diner, the adjacent TD Lounge and a small motel, was contingent upon the planning commission’s approval, she said.

Originally scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20, the Laurel Board of Appeals will tentatively hear the special exception application now on Jan. 24,as the applicant, SH Realty Holdings , requested more time to prepare.

“In light of the testimony from the members of the community and the decision by the Planning Commission … and the issues raised ... we will need additional time to prepare and to respond appropriately,” SH Realty Holdings said in a statement.

Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2013 and sales began last December. In the first nine months of 2018, sales reached $67 million and are on track to hit $100 million before the close of the year.

Despite voting against the permit, Mitzi R. Betman, chairwoman of the Laurel Planning Commission, said she approves a medical marijuana dispensary as a business.

“I do believe the business is a good business,” Betman said at the meeting.

jnocera@baltsun.com

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