Zoning commission to weigh cannabis proposal October 17

OLD SAYBROOK

The Old Saybrook Zoning Commission (ZC) has closed a public hearing into an application to open a retail marijuana dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road. The Commission will likely vote on the matter at its next meeting on Monday, October 17.

In 2021, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. The bill left local municipalities to control its sale in each municipality. Earlier this year, the ZC passed new regulations that effectively banned retail marijuana stores everywhere except District B-4, and limited it to locations that had received city approval before. January 2022. Only two cities have received such approval, one being the location. at 233 Boston Post Road.

Fine Fettle Dispensary filed a special exception request earlier this year to open a recreational cannabis dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road. The application does not request any modifications to the exterior of the building, only renovations to the interior of the building.

The public hearing on the application began in August and continued through September and October. The public hearings attracted a multitude of speakers and letter writers who were both for and against the request. The Zoning Commission asked the applicants to submit a traffic study since road safety was a major concern for a majority of stakeholders.

Following the public hearing on October 3, the Commission voted to close the public hearing and asked its lawyer to write a text for both the approval and the rejection of the application. The Commission will likely resume deliberations at its October 17 meeting.

The continuation

At the Oct. 3 meeting, attorney Amy Souchuns submitted a revised statement of use stating in writing that the dispensary would operate by online appointment only for at least the first six months of operation. Fine Fettle’s chief operating officer, Ben Zachs, told the Port News following the meeting that “(b) based on concerns and responses from the city, traffic engineers, etc., we worked to modify our operations to reduce potential traffic, providing conditions that would ensure organization and management of concerns. We understand that we are looking at perception and the unknown against operational realities. So we want to work with the city to create a plan where everyone can feel comfortable.

A revised traffic plan was also presented to the Commission by traffic engineer Greg Del Rio.

At the time of public comments, only a handful of speakers spoke, none were in favor of the candidacy. Early advisers Carl Fortuna said that while he didn’t want people to take his comments to be against or in favor of marijuana dispensaries, he thought the proposed location of the business was a bad place.

The company’s location near the intersection of Boston Post Road and Springbrook Road was the concern most often cited by those opposing the request. The location is near an entrance to I-95 and it has been argued that additional cars coming to the property would add more congestion to an area that naysayers say is a source of many crashes and crash avoidances from correctness. Additionally, with a small parking lot for the company, it was argued that the lack of adequate parking would force more cars into and out of the parking lot and onto the road.

Police Chief Michael Spera echoed those concerns. Spera noted that estimates of the number of customers coming into the business are said to be over 500 per day. Spera said he would always be opposed to opening a business with such an esteemed customer base there, even if it was unrelated to marijuana.

During his speaking time, Fortuna said he also felt the plaintiffs had been “arrogant” in its dealings with the city and expressed the feeling that it was a question of when, not if, a store of cannabis retailer was coming to Old Saybrook. Zachs said he thought there was miscommunication and he didn’t want to come across that way.

“I was personally saddened and feel bad about the miscommunication. It was never my intention to assume local approvals. In one article, there was a misunderstanding about the application process. ‘State by the City, noting that they were unsure if Fine Fettle would be licensed through the lottery when in reality it did not apply as a capital joint venture. State is in legislation as a “when not an if,” Zachs said.

“I would love the opportunity to discuss it live and one-on-one against misinterpretation on voicemail, which was my fault. This is especially evident because we received our provisional license on day of our second of three hearings,” Zachs continued.

Besides traffic concerns, other people opposed to the app pointed out that the business is close to Beach Babies Day Care. Mark McCarthy, owner of the day care center with his wife, told the Commission that he was concerned that opening a dispensary there would cause several problems. Among the reasons he was opposed to the store was fear that it would devalue the properties around it, it would negatively impact his business as parents might not want their children to be in daycare near of a marijuana store, it could result in the need for additional police expenses, and that due to the small parking lot, people could use the daycare as a place to park or turn around illegally.

“Overall, the Zoning Commission should deny this application at 233 Boston Post Road. The business has a perfectly acceptable alternative property on the other side of town in an area that will not impact surrounding businesses, resolve the zoning issues described above, and generate no negative publicity for the town of Old Saybrook,” McCarthy wrote in a letter.

Souchuns pushed back against some of the claims against the dispensary and pointed out that the same location was approved for a medical marijuana dispensary in 2018 that ultimately never materialized. Souchuns also said the number of customers was an estimate and the actual number may be lower.

Following public comments, the Commission then voted to close the public hearing and has 65 days to deliberate. The Commission asked its lawyer to draft appropriate language for both the approval of the application and the denial of the application,

Operations

At an earlier public hearing, the plaintiffs explained how the business would operate and attempted to allay the fears of people who had never visited a retail marijuana outlet. According to a statement of use from the claimant, deliveries would be made in vans and no tractor-trailer deliveries were planned. A comprehensive security system would also be in place.

Zachs said the company will initially operate by only taking pre-orders and providing buyers with a set amount of time to show up to get their purchase.

Upon arrival at the store, customers would be met in the parking lot by a greeter who would then verify their identity and confirm meeting times. The customer would then be directed to a second window where the identification is again verified and scanned. The customer would then buzz into the sales room for a third identity check, then be led to a cashier to confirm and collect their order. Zachs said that in total, he estimates customers will spend between five and 10 minutes onsite between arriving in the parking lot and leaving.

Zachs said the company operates other dispensaries in the state and said the top three concerns people have are safety, traffic and odor.

To address those concerns, Zachs said no one under the age of 21 is allowed inside the store. In addition, no strolling or consumption or open products are authorized on the premises. Gummy and “child-directed marketing” also won’t be allowed under state law, Zachs said.

“It’s not like what they might show on TV or the news where people are like showing the products and they feel it,” Zachs said at the time. At the Sept. 7 meeting, Zachs said he would be open to terms that require the business to operate on an appointment basis beyond the initial opening phase.

Products are kept in a secure safe until the person picks up their pick up time. All products are sold in childproof bags with discreet packaging. Employees would be trained in the process of recognizing signs of addiction, and flyers advertising ways to seek help would be placed by registries.

Zachs said there will be 360-degree cameras and blackout windows. With a daycare located a short distance from the property, Zachs reiterated that there would be no overt marketing. Zachs said strict advertising laws limit the types of signs or advertisements people would see, allowing the building to blend in with the background.

As for the smell, Zachs said the products are pre-packaged and no smoking inside or outside the property. As an added precaution, odor mitigation systems would also be installed inside the building. Once the purchase is made, Zachs said customers will be asked to leave the parking lot.

Due to state restrictions, Old Saybrook would be limited to a single retail establishment until 2024 due to its population.

Aurora J. William