OLD SAYBROOK – A scaled back proposal for a retail marijuana store on the Boston Post Road did not resolve opposition the company has faced from nearby business owners who continue to oppose the proposal before the Zoning Commission.
After its plans for a store at 233 Boston Post Road on the east end of town were rejected by a 3-2 vote in October – with the commission citing concerns that there was not enough parking and the site was too small for the size of store the company proposes – Fine Fettle returned with plans for a smaller store with fewer employees.
Fine Fettle’s new plans use only the part of the building that was approved for a medical marijuana dispensary in 2018, with the rest left for storage. And it reduced the number of registers proposed so that eight employees would be on site, instead of the 15-23 employees proposed in its earlier application.
“We did give a great deal of thought to the motions and reasons for denial were, looked at what our options were to address those items, and really tried to work through and develop a plan we thought would be a good fit for the community,” Fine Fettle attorney Amy Souchuns told the commission on Wednesday.
Fine Fettle’s sales would be entirely online pre-orders, and Souchuns said the company would allow no more than five appointments in every 10 minute window – a maximum of 30 customers an hour. The property has 27 parking spaces, leaving 19 for customers, Souchuns said.
The property is one of two where Old Saybrook will consider marijuana businesses, after both were approved for medical marijuana dispensaries that never opened. The other property is 5 Custom Drive, near the Department of Motor Vehicles office on the west side of Old Saybrook, a warehouse where Jacqueline Appleby is proposing a “micro-cultivation” marijuana growing facility.
George Mark McCarthy, owner of the Beach Babies Learning Center, across Boston Post Road from the proposed store, said allowing marijuana to be sold so close to his daycare center would harm his business – saying he’s spoken to families who are thinking about leaving the daycare if it is approved.
McCarthy told the commission there are 110 children at the center at any given time, and they’ve provided quality daycare for 16 years. But he said parents don’t want to send their children to a daycare across the street from a marijuana store, and he would appeal if the commission approved the store in order to protect his business.
McCarthy also said the location would violate federal law for drug free school zones, which does not allow drugs within 1,600 feet of a daycare or school. Connecticut has not passed any law to the contrary, he said.
“You wouldn’t put a liquor store next to a high school, because that’s just wrong,” McCarthy said. “And you shouldn’t put a drug facility next to a daycare. You’re attracting the wrong type of perception about Old Saybrook and what we stand for.”
Chris Cestaro, owner of Ocean Performance across the street from the proposed store, said he didn’t believe that the business wouldn’t cause more traffic problems on a stretch of road residents have said is already marred by crashes and bad traffic, especially when a crash on Interstate 95 reroutes traffic down Boston Post Road.
“I think you’re going to have people coming into town, they’re early [for their appointments], they’re gonna drive around down the street,” Cestaro said. “It’s not really a flow area, it’s a street that goes up and down, so they’re gonna have to make a k-turn on people’s facilities – so more chances for accidents and more problems.”
Residents also questioned whether Fine Fettle would look to expand its operation in the future, adding registers, employees or appointments to increase sales. Commission Vice Chair Mark Caldarella said the company would need the commission’s approval to make those changes, and Fine Fettle CEO Richard Carbray said the company would not look to expand.
“We’re not going to try to add registers. We’re going to go by what the commission allows us to do,” Carbray said. “If we do less sales, we do less sales. We’re not going to bring more employees on.”
Neighbors also questioned how Fine Fettle’s estimated sales tax contributions to Old Saybrook remained unchanged despite shrinking the size of the proposed store. Souchuns said the range of $250,000 to $350,000 in revenue from the 3 percent municipal tax represented a range of $8.3 to $11.7 million in sales.
“I think a lot of what you’ve heard from the public is either a philosophical disagreement about whether cannabis should be legal, and whether it should be allowed in Old Saybrook – that answer has been resolved,” Souchuns said. “I think when you look at the criteria that’s actually before you with respect to zoning, again, we have addressed all of those criteria that are site specific, and are not based on, frankly, speculation and concerns that are unfounded.”
The hearing was continued to the Zoning commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 6.