When weed and real estate collide: How 2 Chicago entrepreneurs are visualizing pot zoning laws

February 10, 2015

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HerbFront's co-founders Matt Chapdelaine and Alan O’Connell

When Matt Chapdelaine saw an opportunity for his client to double the value of his building overnight by selling it to a legalized cannabis company, he knew he’d found real estate gold.

For the budding industry (in states where medical marijuana is legal), cannabis companies have to jump through a lot of hoops just to find a place to set up shop. Chapdelaine, who spent more than 14 years in commercial real estate and who has founded many real estate technology platforms, and Alan O’Connell, a city planner with experience in logistics, realized no companies were serving this fast-growing industry. The two co-founded HerbFront to address that.

Their platform seeks to visualize the myriad of zoning rules, state, county and city regulations that apply to legal cannabis companies. Knowing that a store is properly zoned can remove a large source of risk for these businesses.

Zoned For Pot

“There’s no marketplace for real estate that’s directed toward the legal cannabis industry,” said Chapdelaine.

What many newly founded cannabis companies may not know is the challenges they face in just trying to find a location for their business, and a landlord willing to sell or rent to them. Zoning laws prohibit cannabis businesses from setting up shop within 1,000 feet of a school – that’s widely known. But less understood are the layers of state, county and municipal regulations on top of that. These range from how many cannabis businesses can be in one area, the distance from rehab facilities, and placement away from residential areas.

“One of the most difficult things to do when you are opening up a legal cannabis business is finding the right location. The land use laws are extremely strict and complex, especially for people who don’t understand zoning regulations and land use law,” said Chapdelaine.

And even when a suitable location is found, there’s no guarantee the landlord is willing to work with the industry.

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HerbFront Visualizes zonning requirements

Sloughing through all the regulations is time intensive work. Work that HerbFront has done for the industry. “We are taking those complex laws and we’re visualizing them to show you where you can and cannot place one of these businesses,” said Chapdelaine.

“The mapping and zoning technology will let you know where you should be looking and where you shouldn’t be looking,” said O’Connell.

“It takes a lot of the legwork out of starting one of these businesses,” said Chapdelaine.

But the platform isn’t just for those in the cannabis industry — its also for those hoping to make a bit of profit from existing, non-cannabis properties.  “If you are a commercial real estate owner or broker and you want to market your property to the industry, we give you the platform to market your property directly to industry professionals who may be expanding to your area,” said O’Connell.

Though the company has just started out, they’ve already seen a lot of interest. Over 500 people requested information before the website launched.

Beyond Pot

HerbFront’s software does more than just track what’s happening – the team is working to make it predictive as well. “The predictive nature of our mapping and zoning technology will expand beyond the cannabis industry into industrial land use, medical, healthcare, any industry that is affected by zoning and local land regulations,” said O’Connell.

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