WESTBROOK – Dozens of residents expressed their concerns regarding a proposed retail marijuana outlet on the Boston Post Road during a nearly three-hour long public hearing, but it did not appear that their arguments would sway the Zoning Commission to reject the application.
The residents who filled the seats and lined the walls at the Zoning Commission meeting Monday night largely lived near the location of BUDR’s proposed retail marijuana store at 755 Boston Post Road – the site of a former package store in a building that also includes a laundromat and second-floor apartments.
Several said they were concerned about the store increasing traffic to the area, which they said is already a problem, especially in the summers when the beach community surrounding the store fills up and out-of-town visitors flock to nearby West Beach.
Others said a marijuana store didn’t fit the neighborhood, which is mixed use on the Post Road and residential around it – and expressed concerns that the store’s customers would smoke marijuana nearby, including at the beach and possibly around children.
And still others questioned whether the town’s 3-percent share of the revenues justified the way the business could end up changing the character of the shoreline community, or the burden it would place on the resident state trooper and constables.
But Zoning Commission Chair Harry Ruppenicker, Jr. told the crowd that all the commission can consider is whether the application meets the town’s zoning regulations.
“We would have to find something that links back to a specific zoning regulation as a reason to deny it,” Ruppenicker said. “We can’t say we’ll allow a small restaurant, but we don’t want a McDonald’s because they’ll generate more traffic. If you allow retail use, we can’t say we don’t like the product.”
BUDR’s attorney Ian Butler made the case that the proposed store did meet the town’s regulations, which specifically allow marijuana retailers in the mixed-use zone along Boston Post Road that includes the proposed site.
“Each one of these [areas with this zone] is right up against residential and either directly abuts or includes beaches,” Butler said. “That’s by definition what the NCD zone is.”
Derrick Gibbs, one of the partners of BUDR along with Carl Tirella, said the commission can’t reject his application just because he is proposing to sell marijuana at the store instead of another product.
“If I had a product that, perhaps, wasn’t cannabis – say it was sunglasses, or jewelry, or shoes that were just a hot commodity – people from New York City want them, and they all came to Westbrook and 200 cars would be coming for these pairs of shoes, would my application be denied then?” Gibbs asked.
Gibbs told the Planning Commission last week that he had explored other options for the store, including the Westbrook Outlet Mall off of Interstate 95. The mall wasn’t an option because the owners have a loan for the property, and the bank won’t allow a marijuana business, Gibbs said.
On Monday, he said there was another former liquor store that just became available, and he had spoken to the owner of the building about moving in. He said that would address the concerns about parking, but wasn’t convinced that it would stop the pushback from residents.
“We could submit another application for another location, but we’re going to be coming back to the same conversation that we’re having,” Gibbs said.
Some members of the commission appeared frustrated that more town residents voicing objections to the proposed marijuana store hadn’t participated in the public hearings when they were considering whether to allow marijuana sales at all.
The commission opened a public hearing on the regulations for marijuana businesses on April 25, and kept the hearing open until they voted 4-0 to approve the regulations on July 25.
“We are listening, and it’s difficult because all these things, if we heard them four months ago, we wouldn’t be here today,” Commission Vice Chair Dwayne Xenelis said. “The whole decision would have gone a different way.”
The commissioners and residents went back and forth on how much notice was given for those public hearings, with several residents saying they didn’t know about the regulations. The commission said only two people spoke at the public hearing, which they kept open for three months before ultimately approving the regulations.
The commission also put a survey on the town website and in town Facebook groups to try to get more input. That garnered 154 responses, with 47 percent saying marijuana businesses should be allowed with restrictions and 22.5 percent saying they should generally be allowed.
“A lot of you are good friends of mine, and this is not a comfortable process for me, but the applicant has rights, too,” Ruppenicker said. “The property owner has rights, too. If they meet the zoning regulations, we can’t just turn it down.”
Neighboring Old Saybrook rejected an application from Fine Fettle for a marijuana retailer on Boston Post Road, saying it was too large for the site to handle. Fine Fettle is appealing that decision, saying it was illegal and arbitrary.