CT: P&Z Endorses Medical Marijuana Dispensary For Commerce Road

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Following lengthy discussion at a June 7 session, Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members in dual split votes created new zoning regulations, which allow a medical marijuana dispensary as a permitted land use, and also approved a special zoning permit for such a dispensary, which has been proposed for an existing industrial building at 18 Commerce Road.

Whether such a dispensary is created at that location will be decided by the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP). The department recently received more than 70 applications for new dispensaries, which would augment the existing nine dispensaries.

The DCP is expected to approve somewhere between three and ten new dispensaries in the state. In this area, a dispensary does business on Garella Road in Bethel. The are approximately 27,000 people in the state qualified to receive medical marijuana, of whom about 5,600 live in Fairfield County.

DCP spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson said June 8, “We received 73 applications that are currently under review and hope to announce our decisions by sometime this fall.” Before the DCP would consider 18 Commerce Road as a possible dispensary location, the P&Z needed to create zoning regulations explicitly allowing such a land use and issue a special zoning permit for that land use for that location.

All five regular members of the P&Z voted on both the proposed new zoning rules and the special zoning permit. In both votes, the split was 3-2 in favor, with Chairman Don Mitchell, Jim Swift, and Barbara Manville in favor, and Robert Mulholland and Corinne Cox opposed.

A firm known as 18 Commerce Road LLC, which owns the building at that address, submitted both applications. The property owner proposes using a currently vacant approximately 5,000-square-foot section of the about 10,000-square-foot building for a dispensary. The building is on the west side of Commerce Road, near the dead-end street’s turnaround circle.

Attorney Robert Hall, representing the applicant, stressed to P&Z members that the state tightly controls medical marijuana through a detailed set of regulations which specify its production and distribution. The proposed Commerce Road facility would only dispense medical marijuana, not grow it.

“I personally believe it’s a good thing … It’s beneficial … It’s extremely tightly controlled,” Mr Hall said.

A Commerce Road facility would sell marijuana to people qualified to buy it, not only Newtown residents, he said. The lawyer termed 18 Commerce Road the “ideal location,” when considering that it is near the end of a dead-end street in an industrial park, but also relatively close to Interstate 84 Exit 10.

A doctor determines a patient has a need for medical marijuana, after which a pharmacist at a dispensary determines the appropriate dosing after consulting with a patient, Mr Hall said.

Town Officials Comment

Several town officials offered their comments on allowing a medical marijuana dispensary to do business locally.

In a June 7 memo to the P&Z, Health Director Donna Culbert wrote that she does not favor creating a zoning regulation to allow a medical marijuana dispensary and does not favor issuing a special zoning permit for that use.

Ms Culbert stressed that her comments reflect her views, adding that the Board of Health has not had the opportunity to meet and discuss the proposals.

“I have concerns about the prevailing perception of marijuana use and specifically with regard for our youth… There is currently a dispensary in an adjacent community… so there is no hardship for our residents who may need this service,” she wrote.

In a June 7 memo, Police Chief James Viadero wrote that he opposes having a dispensary in Newtown.

“While I am cognizant [of] the needs of those who currently benefit from medical marijuana, I don’t feel that the availability in other nearby locations presents a necessity to enact zoning changes to accommodate another facility in Newtown,” he wrote.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal spoke in opposition to the medical marijuana-related proposals at the June 7 P&Z hearing.

Mr Rosenthal noted the Bethel dispensery already in existence and added that another dispensary may be approved for Brookfield.

Zijad Sabovic, MD, of Bridgeport, spoke in favor of the two zoning proposals. Dr Sabovic said he treats many patients from Newtown. Dispensaries are very carefully operated, he said, adding, “Pain is a very common problem.”

Eileen Mitchell, who runs a business at 16 Commerce Road, said that while she understands the need for medical marijuana, she would oppose allowing such use at 18 Commerce Road, when considering that the applicant wants to install a retaining wall there to expand parking facilities.

Laura Duffy of Pilgrim Lane, a licensed psychotherapist in Brookfield, spoke against allowing a dispensary at Commerce Road. Ms Duffy said that some people unfortunately “game” the state’s medical marijuana program to obtain marijuana without meeting the requirements to do so.

Mr Hall told P&Z members, “The need is there… The benefits far outweigh the negatives.”

Commenting on the proposed zoning regulation to allow a medical marijuana dispensary as a permitted land use, Mr Swift said such a rule would be consistent with the 2014 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Mr Mulholland commented that he supports the use of medical marijuana but considers creating a dispensary at 18 Commerce Road “premature.”

“It’s not justified here in Newtown… It’s not a long drive to Bethel,” Mr Mulholland said.

Ms Cox said, “I do not want it in town.”

The P&Z members then voted, resulting in the 3-2 split in favor of the new zoning regulation.

The P&Z then held a second public hearing on the requested special zoning permit, during which the applicant explained how the site would be modified and be used for a dispensary, if state DCP approval is granted.

During that hearing, Ms Mitchell said she opposes having a dispensary at 18 Commerce Road in view of plans to excavate land at 18 Commerce Road and install a retaining wall to expand parking facilities there. The two properties have a common boundary line.

Ms Mitchell also raised concerns about stormwater drainage. In addition, she noted that a dispensary would be a “retail” use in an “industrial” area in posing questions about hours of operation, traffic flow, and staffing.

In an ensuing vote, P&Z members approved the special permit in a 3-2 vote, deciding that the application is consistent with the Town Plan.

The building at 18 Commerce Road was constructed in 1978. It is located in a M-5 (Industrial) zone. An organization known as Health Vitality Center of Connecticut would likely operate a dispensary.

The state lists 21 debilitating conditions that allow marijuana to be prescribed for a patient. They include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord damage, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, severe psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and ulcerative colitis.

An initial application for a dispensary was denied by Town Planning Director George Benson. An ensuing Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) application, which sought to overturn that decision, failed. Those two rejections resulted in the two applications to the P&Z.