OLD SAYBROOK – First Selectman Carl Fortuna joined opposition to a proposed marijuana dispensary on Route 1, arguing that redevelopment of a vacant building near a difficult intersection and a daycare is a bad location for the business.
Fine Fettle, a Connecticut-based marijuana company is seeking zoning approval to put a dispensary at 233 Boston Post Road, next to an exit for Interstate 95.
The proposal has met opposition at a series of Zoning Commission public hearings, mainly over the location, which locals have said will make a difficult traffic situation worse. Police Chief Michael Spera has repeatedly said he’s concerned with both the location and with bringing a marijuana business into Old Saybrook, which he said would require hiring more police officers to monitor.
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At a final public hearing Monday night, Mark McCarthy, one of the owners of the Beach Babies Learning Center at 210 Boston Post Road – a few hundred feet away from the proposed dispensary – urged the Zoning Commission to reject Fine Fettle’s application to use this location.
McCarthy said the dispensary will harm their childcare business, as families won’t want to have their children attend a daycare next to a dispensary. He said the 27 parking spaces on the site is not enough to handle traffic flow to the dispensary, and the parking situation will lead dispensary customers to turn around in the daycare parking lot and park on its front lawn.
The proposed location does have enough parking spaces to meet the requirements of the zoning regulations, but Zoning Commission Chair Robert Friedmann said the town could require more parking when a particular development would requires it.
A parking management plan submitted by Fine Fettle proposes proposes renting spaces from Cloud Nine Catering across Boston Post Road – though Fine Fettle attorney Amy Souchuns said they didn’t expect they would need the additional spaces.
Spera criticized the plan for potentially making people walk across the highway to reach the dispensary, and Friedmann questioned why Fine Fettle didn’t propose to build a secondary parking lot on its own site instead.
McCarthy said the proposal didn’t include enough oversight of Fine Fettle’s operation, like ensuring that the company is actually “throttling” its customers through online orders, limiting the number of customers who visit each hour the store is open. And he said the company’s proposal to change the adjacent I-95 offramp to a T-intersection to address traffic issues would take years to complete.
“It would be, I believe, incredibly reckless to put this type of business so close to the children of Old Saybrook attending Beach Babies learning center,” McCarthy said. “Quite honestly, I don’t think you’d allow a liquor store to be put next to the high school for similar reasons.”
Fortuna said that he didn’t want his comments to be construed as being against having marijuana businesses in Old Saybrook – marijuana is legal in Connecticut, and he said he anticipates there will be dispensaries in or around the town in the near future.
But he said Fine Fettle was trying to “put a square peg in a round hole” at this location, and said there are other areas of town that would be better suited for it. He also said he didn’t appreciate an email from Fine Fettle a few months ago where Fortuna said he was told the dispensary was a matter of “when, not if.”
Souchuns said that was referring to Fine Fettle’s ability to get a state permit – which it has been awarded – not local zoning approval.
“I’d like to see Fine Fettle regroup and perhaps take a different tack,” Fortuna said. “They’re coming in, I think, with the wrong attitude, and they’re rubbing people the wrong way – especially members of the public, certainly me. I think they should find a more suitable retail location and apply for a license there.”
In May, the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission banned all marijuana dispensaries, except for two sites that had previously been approved for medical marijuana dispensaries in 2018 – the site Fine Fettle is applying for, and another on Custom Drive, near the DMV office on the opposite end of town.
Friedmann asked for two motions to be drafted for the commission to vote on – on to approve and one to deny. Whichever way the commission decided, that decision could be appealed, so commissioners need to make sure their decision is legally defensible, he said.
Friedmann said the fact that the commission limited dispensaries to only two sites posed a potential “quandary” that there would only be one possible site if the commission rejected Fine Fettle’s application. But Friedmann said that they would only be rejecting this application, and companies could apply again to put a dispensary on the same site.