Guest Opinion: Yant should appeal denial of cannabis proposal

Thumbs-up for your Feb. 13 editorial “Plexis still scrutinized,” recommending that “the city stop splitting hairs and allow a legal business to move forward, treating it like any other.” This nails the issue as one of fairness and common sense. Too bad the Planning Commission didn’t see it this way when that same day it rejected Jorge Yant’s revised application.

When I moved to Ashland 13 years ago, the hair salon I went to was located at the Oak Street end of this historic industrial “Plexis” building. It was one of a variety of shops and offices attracting streams of customers. I heard no complaints about traffic and had no trouble parking.

When Plexis took over the entire building as its headquarters, I figured this was good for the city’s tax base but sad that the cost for me and other residents was a less vital A Street. That block between Pioneer and Oak Streets now felt dead. So I was thrilled when I read about Plexis CEO Yant’s revised plans for this building he owns. Once again there might be a cluster of shops and offices and a cafe — and foot traffic enlivening this end of A Street. Yeah!

I was impressed that in Yant’s revised proposal, cannabis products would be only one subset among several kinds of products sold, with an emphasis on wellness. While I don’t plan to be a cannabis customer, I would be interested in checking out the other health products and the hemp clothing line — and enjoying this new neighborhood eatery. It sounds like a great fit with the other small-scale, high-quality, artisanal shops and restaurants that add vibrancy to the downtown, Fourth Street and other parts of A Street.

The shocker in the Tidings' Feb. 15 report on the Planning Commission’s rejection of Yant’s revised proposal is that several commissioners are seriously considering not permitting new retail businesses in this part of the city because of traffic concerns. Certainly, traffic considerations need to be taken into account, but must they be the driving factor in future planning for the city’s commercial districts? Surely, the talented people in the Planning Department can come up with more creative approaches for easing congestion than simply cutting out retail.

In my experience — and from what I’ve researched — the keys to revitalized and thriving cities and neighborhoods include a healthy mix of human-scale, pedestrian-friendly retail shops, restaurants, offices, residences and cultural venues — with bits of green space thrown in. Ashland enjoys this in spades downtown. Why put the brakes on the retail and restaurant elements of this winning formula at the north end of the Railroad District? Why go instead with boring blocks of insurance and tax-preparer offices?

Another puzzler: Does the city really want to thumb its nose at a highly successful businessman, with a good local track record, who promises to raise the bar on how businesses that happen to sell legal cannabis products look and operate? What message does this send other business owners who might want to include such legal products in their plans?

Also, if the real reason for turning down Yant’s revised proposal turns out to be the cannabis element, is the city prepared to be accused of discrimination?

I'd understand if Jorge Yant took his business proposal elsewhere, but I do hope he appeals.

— Carolyn Shaffer lives in Ashland.

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