WESTBROOK – The proposed location of a marijuana retailer in a mixed commercial and residential area on Boston Post Road drew public criticism on Monday night.
The Westbrook Planning Commission split 2-2 on whether to endorse the proposal from BUDR to open a 1,500 square foot retail marijuana store in a building that also includes a laundromat and second-floor apartments on a stretch of Boston Post Road near West Beach.
Echoing the concerns of residents who filled the room and spoke out against the location at 755 Boston Post Road, Commission Chair Marilyn Ozols said the business wasn’t appropriate because of the nearby homes.
BUDR partners Carl Tirella and Derrick Gibbs, and their attorney Ian Butler, said their proposal matched Westbrook’s plan of development for promoting a vibrant, diversified economy along the Clinton town line, and generating tax revenue. Butler noted that 3 percent of any sales revenue would go to Westbrook, in addition to the regular property taxes of the business.
The proposal is for the store to be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tirella, who said he used to operate medical marijuana facilities in Danbury, South Windsor and Montville before leaving to work on BUDR, said they could see anywhere from 100 to 200 customers in a day. Gibbs said they expected higher traffic from April-July, and less in the off-season.
He said he expected the traffic would be similar to the liquor store that occupied the space before the building burned down and was rebuilt. Tirella said 90 percent of orders will be made online, and customers would simply come in to pick up their order – reducing the amount of time each person is on site and allowing BUDR to control the flow of traffic.
Gibbs said the main differences between the previous use of a liquor store and the proposed marijuana store was that BUDR would sell a “higher end” product, with average customers spending $100 to $150 per visit, and the store would have to be more secure to comply with state laws.
“When you have folks coming in to buy a product that’s anywhere from $100 to $150 per visit, I would seriously argue [against the idea] that your property values will be devalued because of the cannabis store that’s going to be there,” Gibbs said.
Westbrook resident Dave Russell, who convinced the commission to listen to public comments even though the meeting wasn’t a public hearing, said he didn’t think anyone had contemplated a marijuana store when the town established the mixed-use Neighborhood Commercial District, but it’s not appropriate for an area with so many homes.
“This is a beach and boating area, it’s a primary reason that many people come to Westbrook,” Russell said. “We do not want something like this in that area.”
Russell questioned why BUDR would look to put the business in a largely residential area, on a two-lane stretch of Route 1, in a shared building with a small parking lot, instead of at the Westbrook Outlet mall near Interstate 95.
“You’ve got the mall up there that’s crying for tenants,” Russell said. “Perfect spot.”
Gibbs said he reached out to several other locations, including the mall. He said it would have been a great location, and the business would have been a boost to the suffering mall. But the owners have a loan for the property that kept them from leasing space to Budr, he said.
“Cannabis is still illegal federally, and some banks will not allow for you to have cannabis inside a property that’s being mortgaged by them,” Gibbs said.
He said that he also checked on other properties, including the old Denny’s at the Essex Road exit off of I-95, but they weren’t available.
“When I went around town, we took a lot of time looking at properties and identifying what’s the proper use, and this was the one that we landed on,” Gibbs said.
BUDR was approved by the state as an Equity Joint Venture, and was granted a provisional state permit to operate the Westbrook dispensary if it received local zoning approval. The Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m. on Monday.
Gibbs said that currently the closest retail marijuana outlet is Bluepoint Wellness in Branford, which is a partner in the next closest store, slated to open in Middletown.
Plans by Connecticut medical marijuana retailer Fine Fettle to open an recreational use marijuana store in neighboring Old Saybrook were rejected by that town’s Zoning Committee in a split vote, with the majority saying the business was too large for the Boston Post Road site to accommodate.
That project drew opposition from neighbors and Old Saybrook town leaders, including First Selectman Carl Fortuna and Police Chief Michael Spera, who raised concerns about traffic issues and a strain on emergency services – concerns that Wesbrook residents raised on Monday.
Fine Fettle is appealing the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission’s decision, saying its rejection was illegal and arbitrary.