Medical marijuana dispensary Restore meets hurdles expanding into Delco

The marijuana dispensary in Yeadon, Pa., open on Church Street, in March, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The marijuana dispensary in Yeadon, Pa., open on Church Street, in March, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

What’s important for us to know about Philly’s suburbs?

Branded as Philadelphia’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Restore Integrative Wellness Center has opened a sixth location — at 735 Church Lane in Yeadon. The site — its first in Delaware County — follows Restore operations in Montgomery, Bucks, and Lancaster counties as well as Philly.

There’s just one problem with the new Yeadon location.

Though the business opened its doors on Feb. 14, the borough released a memorandum on Feb. 17 after its Zoning Hearing Board reversed course and ruled that the business is not meant to be in that location. The decision followed a successful appeal from a group of residents.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Restore’s chief operating officer, Rob Stanley, told WHYY News Tuesday that the dispensary is open for business anyway and is considering its legal options for a possible appeal of the decision.

The news of the reversal came as a surprise, Stanley said. Restore has experience getting the right permits and making sure everything is up to code, he said, adding that he believes that Restore did everything right in Yeadon.

“And then over the past month, we heard little rumblings that they were trying to rezone us and different things like that. But we’ve never heard anything from Yeadon Borough. We’ve reached out to the borough with no response, reached out to the solicitor with no response,” Stanley said.

In an interview, Yeadon Borough Council President Sharon Council-Harris said the reason the business is still open is because it is still within the 30-day period for Restore to file an appeal of the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision.

If Restore is not successful in its appeal or chooses not to appeal, Council-Harris said, there would then be another order issued prohibiting the business from operating.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
The marijuana dispensary in Yeadon, Pa., open on Church Street, in March, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

An opponent of the dispensary prior to her election, Council-Harris called the recent zoning decision “an amazing and fantastic victory that we succeeded.” She and others in the community have been opposed to the Restore location since they first heard about it last October during a mayor’s forum.

“Why weren’t we notified? This is not something we want on our main street, [where] children transverse from elementary school,” Council-Harris said. “I am not and I believe several of the community residents are not against a marijuana dispensary. We protested the location of this dispensary.”

Initially, upset residents directed their anger at borough officials and urged them to stop the dispensary from opening. They also filed their own challenge.

Council-Harris said that the opponents recommended that Restore find another location that was not near the main thoroughfare, but that the company never responded.

At a Jan. 19 Yeadon Zoning Hearing Board meeting that had already been rescheduled several times, Council-Harris and a group of residents listed as appellants rejected the board’s initial ruling allowing Restore’s dispensary to operate. Restore was a no-show.

Notice of the Jan. 19 public meeting where a group of residents challenged Restore’s location.

Testifying on the residents’ behalf was an outside city planning expert who made the argument that Restore would be using a space too large for retail stores, thus disqualifying it from being allowed in the Neighborhood Commercial District.

According to the order issued by the board on Feb. 17, “because Restore is not a business office, an agency or studio and cannot avail itself of a conditional use, it is precluded from being located in the NC Neighborhood Commercial District.”

The memorandum went on to say that Restore’s appropriate location would have to be in the RC-Regional Commercial District.

Now that the board has ruled in their favor, Council-Harris and the residents are happy with the decision.

“I’m just excited that the Zoning Hearing Board made their decision on the side of the residents and the children of the borough of Yeadon. Our kids matter, they are our future. They are the ones to come after us,” she said.

Her big takeaway? “Respect the community, and we’ll respect you.”

Restore COO Stanley said he has “nothing but respect” for the borough and its elected officials. Since Restore first began seeking approval for the dispensary from zoning officials in August 2020, Stanley said, there was always a detailed plan for opening that was vetted by Restore’s lawyers, architects, and design team.

He said that when the borough received Restore’s plan, Yeadon zoning officials did their due diligence — approval took nearly three months. The borough’s zoning officer, Rufus Stokes, sent the formal letter of approval for the business to open in November 2020. The dispensary got approval from the state to operate in March 2021.

Shortly afterward, the space, which used to house a Citizens Bank branch, was purchased for $720,000. Construction and initial operating costs totaled $2 million.

Stanley said Restore has a great relationship with the Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as the law enforcement bodies in the other municipalities in which it operates. But he did acknowledge the concerns of community members.

“When we started doing construction, there were folks doing some protests out there. And we talked to them. And then formed a great relationship with some of the folks that were out there protesting, explaining what we did. And I think they understood a little bit more what was going on,” Stanley said.

And since that initial wave of pushback, Stanley said Restore worked to gain the trust of the community, through events and Zoom forums and talking to local officials including the mayor, several council members, and even recently fired police chief Anthony “Chachi” Paparo.

Restore received a certificate of occupancy from Yeadon  on Feb. 2.

Stanley said doesn’t want to involve himself with “misinformation” about the purpose of the facility. He added that there might simply be some confusion about what a marijuana dispensary actually does.

“We want to do, what we came to be is a community leader and a neighbor. We have 35 employees now that are Yeadon residents that love working with us, and we want to be a positive business leader in that community,” Stanley said, citing a holiday turkey drive Restore spearheaded. “We didn’t come there to kind of just start drama and go tit for tat with people. That’s not how we do it. We’re there to work with people, not against them.”

Across Pennsylvania, there are currently more than 130 medical marijuana dispensaries in operation.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal