It’s a tale of two municipalities.
One, Stamford – population 136,300 – is Connecticut’s second-largest city.
The other, Old Saybrook – population 10,600 – is among the state’s smallest towns.
Both received applications from Fine Fettle, a marijuana retailer looking to set up shop within their municipal borders.
Stamford said yes to the application. Old Saybrook said no.
Now, with retail outlets for marijuana set to open in a few months, Fine Fettle has Old Saybrook officials in State Superior Court, arguing that the town’s Zoning Commission, in rejecting the application, provided no evidence that the business on Boston Post Road will generate excessive traffic.
Old Saybrook officials say they are particularly concerned about an Interstate-95 off-ramp that already has traffic problems.
But, in Stamford, zoning officials are banking on the traffic plan proposed by Fine Fettle CEO Benjamin Zachs.
In approving it earlier this year, Stamford zoning officials said Fine Fettle on Research Drive, now a medical marijuana dispensary, will revitalize surrounding businesses and bring in revenue. After the state takes its usual 6.35 percent sales tax and another tax based on the THC content of cannabis products, municipalities get 3 percent of the gross receipts.
But circumstances are aligning in a way that could spell traffic trouble on Research Drive.
This week the state Department of Consumer Protection announced that marijuana growers and manufacturers are close to reaching the supply threshold required for recreational sales to begin.
But only seven medical retailers have been approved to start selling recreational marijuana once the supply chain is set. The retailers are in New Haven, Branford, Meriden, Torrington, Newington and Willimantic, but there is only one in Fairfield County, the most populous part of Connecticut.
It’s Fine Fettle on Research Drive.
The drive is the main drag in Research Park, an area is packed with dozens and dozens of small businesses – auto body shops, construction companies, stone dealers, a catering service, a fence company, real estate offices, a screen printing shop, a sewer and drain service, landscaping companies, a plumbing contractor, a glass and mirror shop, delicatessens, a brewery, a field of satellite dishes owned by a digital media company, and more.
The businesses lie along a patchwork of narrow, curving, poorly paved roads made busier by traffic that cuts through Research Park to avoid busy, congested Hope Street, a primary artery in that part of Stamford.
Research Park business owners Friday were reluctant to comment on what may happen when Fine Fettle starts selling marijuana. They said they are caught between welcoming traffic that could benefit their bottom lines, and having the traffic strangle them.
“I would definitely be a customer, but I dread any kind of traffic jam it’s going to create,” a truck driver said of Fine Fettle. “I have to come in and out of here all day long.”
The manager of a business near Fine Fettle said he’s concerned.
“If this is the only place for miles, people who want to buy pot are going to flock here,” he said. “It has the potential to become a nightmare.”
Traffic could be exacerbated by customers from New York, which has been slow to license marijuana retailers. New York legalized recreational marijuana 20 months ago but the state’s Cannabis Control Board didn’t approve any retailers until this week. The first group includes 36 retailers, a relatively small number for a state the size of New York.
And now it’s not clear how many will open in December, as New York regulators predicted. That’s because a judge earlier this month delayed licensing in certain areas of the state because of a pending lawsuit questioning the licensing criteria.
When New Jersey opened recreational marijuana shops in April, lines wrapped around the buildings, and many cars with license plates from neighboring New York and Pennsylvania were spotted in the parking lots, according to media reports from the time.
That situation could repeat in Stamford, which shares a border with Westchester County, N.Y., and is situated less than 25 miles from New York City.
Zachs, the Fine Fettle CEO, told the Stamford Zoning Board he has contracted with a parking management company to move cars through Research Park and he will establish an efficient pick-up process by having customers order before they arrive.
Fine Fettle is seeking to share parking space with other businesses, and will offer employees $200 monthly bonuses if they carpool, ride a bike, or use public transportation, Zachs has said.
Fine Fettle is scheduled to be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
In Old Saybrook, pot shops are prohibited with the exception of two sites already approved as medical marijuana dispensaries, including the one on Boston Post Road recently rejected.
Now a court will decide whether the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission accurately characterized the traffic problems that a pot shop there will create.
In Stamford, traffic volume will determine whether the city’s Zoning Board made the right call.
“Everything’s so tight in here,” the truck driver said of Research Park. “If a ton of cars show up, there won’t be anywhere for them to go.”