Proposed Portage Park Dispensary On Irving Park Road Gets Neighborhood Support

PORTAGE PARK — A cannabis dispensary in Portage Park could bring economic development to the Irving Park Road corridor, 38th Ward residents said at a community meeting Wednesday.

At the meeting hosted by Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), neighbors packed the Portage Park Senior Center room, 5431 W. Berteau Ave., to share thoughts on a proposed dispensary that could open inside an old bank, 5900 W. Irving Park Road.

The building is at least 60 years old but has been vacant for over five years.

Eagle Dispensaries of Illinois, operated by Georgia-based entrepreneur Marcus Ferrell, seeks to open an adult-use recreational dispensary in the 12,000-square-foot building. Attorneys filed a special-use application with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals Nov. 1, records show.

A zoning change for the building was approved over the summer, the first hurdle to clear in opening the dispensary. Ferrell, who leads the Black-owned cannabis company Restorative Roots and whose grandmother is from the South Side, said the business would be the company’s first dispensary in Chicago.

The dispensary would operate 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily and have 24/7 surveillance, an armed guard and security cameras around the property, officials said. The operating hours are in line with other dispensaries in the city and with state law, but the hours could change depending on community feedback, said Barrington Rutherford, chief operating officer for Combs Global Cannabis Ventures, which has helped business owners open 26 dispensaries across the country.

Marcus Ferrell, the owner of the proposed dispensary, speaks to neighbors at a Nov. 15 community meeting. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

The dispensary would only sell cannabis products made in Illinois and employ 25-30 people, at least half of whom would be from the community, Rutherford said.

It would have 30 parking spots, two of which would be for those with disabilities, though more ADA-compliant spots could be added, officials said.

“According to our business plan, the estimated revenue is approximately $10 million for the first year, and that is a conservative estimate based on other dispensaries in the Chicagoland area,” Rutherford said.

The majority of ward residents who attended the meeting spoke in favor of the business. Four people opposed the dispensary because of traffic and safety concerns and their opinions on cannabis, they said.

Other neighbors voiced concerns about loitering, the impact on schools and churches in the area and people potentially driving under the influence, but they did not object to the actual business.

Jim Walsh, who has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years and raised his three sons in Portage Park, said he welcomed the business and the additional foot traffic it would bring. As a father, he said he would prefer his kids purchase cannabis legally.

“We welcome you to the neighborhood,” Walsh said.

Harriet Pergande, who lives near the proposed site and has been in the neighborhood since 1956, was initially opposed to the dispensary because of traffic and safety concerns but changed her mind after learning more about the business plan from Ferrell and his team, she said.

The dispensary could be a sign of more neighborhood investment, she said.

“As far as the neighborhood is concerned, people say it’s changing. It has changed, yes, but I think it’s changed for the better,” Pergande said.

Pergande later told Block Club she has friends and family who use cannabis recreationally and has no problem with the substance as long as it’s used safely.

The former bank at 5900 W. Irving Park Road in Portage Park, seen on July 19, 2023, could be turned into a cannabis dispensary. At least 10 cars are seen parked in the lot. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

Saul Osacky, the building’s owner, said he has tried to lease the property for five years without luck. The dispensary would fill an empty storefront and help neighboring businesses, he said.

Sposato agreed, saying he supports the dispensary because it will spur economic development, hire locally and benefit other businesses in the area. The alderman said he has received dozens of complaints about the empty lot, which has been used to store cars and is an “eyesore.”

Sposato proudly told the audience he has never smoked marijuana but has spoken to friends who are recreational cannabis users and other alderpeople with dispensaries in their ward. He’s heard the same thing across the board: The businesses have brought no problems, he said.

A woman who sits on the board of the Polish church Shrine of the Sacred Heart Jesuit Millennium Center, 5835 W. Irving Park Road, said she opposed the proposal because of its proximity to the center and traffic concerns.

“We don’t feel this is the right kind of business to bring [close] to a family-friendly company,” the woman said. “We have over 4,000 people coming in for services on Sunday … the traffic is bad enough as it is.”

RELATED: Every Chicago Cannabis Dispensary Rolled Into One Map

Another resident took issue that none of the dispensary leaders are local, but Ferrell responded by saying he doesn’t aim to open Restorative Roots solely to “take your money” — he plans to invest in the neighborhood by supporting nonprofits and donating to local schools.

Ferrell, a Navy veteran, also plans to buy a house in the neighborhood should the dispensary open, he said.

“We didn’t see any dispensaries anywhere near the area, but more importantly, we like the safety of the area and the community in general,” Ferrell said. “I chose this neighborhood for a reason and hopefully it chooses us.”

After some neighbors raised concerns about the clientele the dispensary might attract, officials reminded folks that most dispensary customers are community members with medical needs and those with expendable income.

The dispensary’s target audience are white women between 37-46 years old, based on research done using neighborhood demographics, officials said.

If approved and opened, the dispensary would be the first one in Portage Park. It would join Chicago’s growing list of Black-owned dispensaries, as the applicant is part of the state’s social equity cannabis program.

The dispensary now needs a hearing with the Zoning Board of Appeals, which could take place in January, said zoning attorney Katriina McGuire.

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