Union Square's luxury shopping district likely to get first cannabis dispensary, despite protests

Union Square's luxury shopping district likely to get first cannabis dispensary, despite protestsHave a Heart Compassion Care has proposed to open a dispensary in Union Square's former John Varvatos store. | Photo: Sarah S./Yelp
Carrie Sisto
Published on February 05, 2020

Union Square's luxury shopping district may be getting its first cannabis retailer, despite protests from neighboring businesses.

Have a Heart Cannabis Club is seeking to open a new two-story dispensary in the former John Varvatos store at 152 Geary St., with entrances on both Geary and Maiden Lane. 

At a public hearing tomorrow, February 6, the Planning Department will consider a request from French luxury brand Chanel, which is seeking to block Have a Heart from opening next door to its San Francisco outpost. Agency staff are recommending the request be dismissed.

Chanel (left) has filed an opposition to the proposed dispensary (center), as has its other neighbor, 142 Geary LLC (right). | Photo: SF Planning

In its October 2019 filing, Chanel argues that Have a Heart is not “compatible with existing uses” of businesses in Union Square’s “Luxury District" — and that it's "completely at odds" with the block's lineup of tony clothing and accessory stores, most of which are operated by large multinational brands.

“The presence of the Have A Heart dispensary will have a significant detrimental effect on these long established businesses,” Chanel writes, suggesting that Have a Heart would be better suited to the "busy Market Street corridor."

Chanel did not respond to a request for further comment. 

The board of Union Square’s Business Investment District (BID) also filed a letter supporting Chanel’s request for review, arguing that allowing the dispensary to move in will make it difficult to attract new luxury retailers to other nearby storefronts. The BID declined further comment, referring us to its letter to the Planning Commission. 

Union Square BID argues that its "Luxury Zone" is not an appropriate location for dispensaries | Map: SF Planning

As the Chronicle reported last year, Seattle-based Have a Heart is teaming up on the project with Alexis Bronson, who would be a partner in the dispensary under the city's cannabis equity program.

The program aims to help those disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, particularly people of color. Bronson, who is black, told the Chronicle that he had "run-ins" with the law while selling marijuana as a teen, though he was never convicted of a felony. Beginning in the mid-'90s, he went into business selling medical cannabis to dispensaries.

In its response to the letters from Chanel and the BID, Have a Heart, which has 10 locations in California, Iowa and Washington state, argues that it would be a "world-class," "luxury" dispensary "that sets the bar for high-end retail in the cannabis industry for years to come." As a result, it says, it would draw more luxury cannabis retailers to the neighborhood.

Have a Heart did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the upcoming public hearing, or its neighbors' formal opposition. But in its filing, it argues that the location will see about 600 customers per day, the majority of whom would use its online pre-order system so as to reduce any potential lines or sidewalk disruptions.

The notice of the discretionary review petition and Planning Commission meeting has been posted at 152 Geary St. for several weeks. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

In the run-up to the Planning Commission meeting, staff are recommending the agency deny Chanel and the BID’s request, and also that it approve Have a Heart's building permit without requiring further environmental review.

The site is properly zoned for a cannabis retail store, and by increasing foot traffic to the area, the store will provide "an additional anchor to the Union Square District," Planning staff argue in their recommendation.

Tomorrow's meeting only relates to the zoning of the Geary Street space; even if Have a Heart clears that bar, its official city permit as a retail cannabis store is still pending, according to the SFOffice of Cannabis.

Have a Heart has at least three other applications pending with the Office of Cannabis for other cannabis shops around the city. According to its website, it plans to open locations at an undisclosed address on Irving Street in the Sunset, and at 5600 Geary Blvd. in the Richmond District

The Planning Commission hearing begins at 1 p.m. tomorrow, in Room 400 of City Hall (1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place).