Controversial Cannabis Store Coming to Boston Post Road

OLD SAYBROOK

A controversial plan to open a cannabis shop on Boston Post Road has gained approval from the Zoning Commission — but not without a lengthy list of conditions.

At its meeting on Feb. 6, the commission approved an application from Fine Fettle Dispensary to open a retail marijuana store at 233 Boston Post Road. The bid to open the store had been a source of controversy over the last six months.

After closing the application’s public hearing, the Zoning Commission deliberated and voted 3-2 to approve the application with a lengthy list of conditions.

Ann Marie Thorsen and Justin Terribile joined Chairman Robert Friedmann in approving the application, while members Mark Caldarella and Marc Delmonico voted in opposition.

As part of the commission’s conditions, the business is required to operate by presale and appointment pick-ups only. The applicants could apply to change that provision in the future but would need zoning commission approval for the change.

Additionally, the store must have a parking attendant to manage the traffic flow in the parking lot. The store will be limited to only eight employees on-site at a time.

Gaining approval for the application was a long journey that drew significant opposition from some members of the public.

Retail marijuana first appeared as a possibility in town in 2021. That year, Connecticut legislators passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. The bill left it up to local municipalities to control its sale in each town. In 2022, the Zoning Commission passed new regulations that effectively banned retail marijuana stores everywhere except for the B-4 district and restricted it to locations that received approval from the town prior to January 2022. Only two locations in Old Saybrook had received such approval, one being the location at 233 Boston Post Road.

In 2022, Fine Fettle filed a first special exception application to open a cannabis dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road, the site of an earlier medical marijuana approval from different applicants that never came to fruition. At its Oct. 17, 2022, meeting, the Commission deliberated quickly and voted 3-2 to deny the application.

Following the denial, the applicants filed an appeal of the decision in Middlesex Superior Court in November. The appeal alleges that the Zoning Commission acted arbitrarily in its reasons for denying the first application.

A public hearing was opened last month over a second application with a scaled-down proposal to address the Commission’s concerns as outlined in its previous denial. That revised application was approved at the Feb. 6 meeting.

In denying the motion last year, the Commission’s cited reasons included inadequate employee parking and a potentially high number of visitors that the commissioners said would be too much for the driveway and local roads to handle. The Commission also cited an increase in proposed operational space. The Fine Fettle application proposed using the entire building. The 2018 medical marijuana dispensary proposed to use only half of the building.

In the second application, Fine Fettle proposed using the same amount of the building that the medical marijuana dispensary was approved for in 2018. The remaining space will be used for storage.

The new application also proposes decreasing the number of on-site employees to eight and limiting the number of registers, leading to more available parking spots for customers.

The original Fine Fettle application drew substantial feedback from members of the public. The second application was no different with several speakers appearing at both public hearings as well as writing letters to the Zoning Commission. Some letters were in favor of the application but the majority of speakers were against the application. Every speaker at the Feb. 6 meeting voiced opposition.

The most common reason people pointed to for being opposed to the application is the location of the business. Boston Post Road and Springbrook Road intersection is close to I-95, and opponents have argued that additional cars coming to the property would increase congestion in an area already prone to near-misses and accidents. Additionally, with a small parking lot for the business, opponents argued that the lack of adequate parking would force more cars in and out of the lot and onto the road. While decisions on redesigning the intersection of Boston Post Road and Springbrook Road rest on the Department of Transportation, the applicants said they would commit up to $50,000 towards redesigning the road if the state allows it.

Speaking at the meeting on Feb . 6, Old Saybrook Chief of Police Michael Spera said that the location would be improper for any business with a large customer base and significant turnover. Spera said that it would be unsafe for pedestrians and motorists alike.

Amy Souchuns, an attorney for the applicant, had said that the store was anticipating a quick turnaround for customers at the shop. Even with staggered appointment times, speakers worried that would create numerous cars coming in and out of the lot.

Traffic was not the only concern speakers had. George Mark McCarthy, the owner of Beach Babies Learning Center, LLC, told the Commission at its January public hearing he was worried if the application were approved, it would cause several issues with his business.

McCarthy argued that most of the parents served by the daycare would not want their children at a daycare near a marijuana store. McCarthy added he was worried that due to the small parking lot at the cannabis shop, people might use the daycare’s parking lot to turn around or park in, which could create a safety hazard. McCarthy said that he would file a lawsuit if they approved the application.

Other speakers were concerned that if the application was approved, it could potentially devalue the stores and properties around the dispensary. Some residents spoke of a fear that the store would create a drain on police resources and lead to additional costs to the town, while still more speakers speculated a pot shop could lead to a negative reputation or crime in town.

Operations

With marijuana sales now approved, there are some facts about the operation that may put some of the public concerns at ease.

First and foremost, nobody under 21 is permitted inside the store. Additionally, no loitering, consumption, or open products is permitted on the premises. Gummies and “child-focused marketing” also won’t be allowed per state law.

Products are kept in a secure vault until the customer comes for their pick-up time. All products are sold in child-proof bags with discrete packaging.

Upon arrival at the store, a greeter would meet customers in the parking lot, who would then check identification and confirm appointment times. The customer would then be directed to a second window where identification is checked again and scanned. They would then be buzzed into the sales floor to pick up their order. The applicants estimated customers would spend between five and 10 minutes on site from pulling into the parking lot to leaving.

Deliveries will be made in vans and not tractor-trailers. A comprehensive security system would also be implemented, including 360-degree cameras and opaque windows. There will also be no explicit marketing.

An Open Investigation

One comment made during the public hearing took several people by surprise. At the start of his time speaking, Spera referred to an ongoing investigation into someone possibly trying to influence a member of the Zoning Common for the application. Souchuns said she had not heard that claim and asked the chief to clarify that he was not implying the person under investigation was related to the applicant. Spera replied, “Absolutely not.”

Spera expanded a bit to the Harbor News after the meeting. “I can confirm that the Department is investigating a concerning communication received by a member of the Zoning Commission with respect to Fine Fettle’s Zoning Application,” Spera said in an email.

“No Member of a regulatory board or commission should be threatened and/or improperly influenced to vote in a certain manner to avoid conflict,” Spera continued. “Our board and commission members are volunteers, and if they are acting impartially and without personal bias, should be permitted to perform their civic duties without conflict.”


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