WESTBROOK – Months after the Zoning Commission approved a marijuana retailer, residents upset with that decision are asking the commissioners to ban all future marijuana stores in their neighborhood along the Boston Post Road.
Some on the commission suggested that they were open to the idea, which comes after the commission’s January vote to allow BUDR to open a marijuana retail store at 755 Boston Post Road, the location of a former package store near West Beach. The commission approved the marijuana store by a 4-1 vote, even after residents packed public hearings to argue the store didn’t fit the residential beach community.
On Monday night, Westbrook resident Dave Russell said those who opposed BUDR wanted to ensure that no other marijuana store would be able to open in the town’s NCD zone – a mixed commercial and residential zone along the Boston Post Road.
Russell said boating and beaches are the “bread and butter” of Westbrook, and that marijuana outlets would cause problems for the beach communities along the Boston Post Road.
“Our thought is that this area is something we should be guarding, protecting, and making an attraction for Westbrook, for the right types of businesses that would cultivate what I think most of us kind of want with the beach, and the boating, and restaurants – and other things that would support the kind of summer recreational environment of a pleasant New England town,” Russell said.
The commission agreed to move forward with hearing an application after Russell and Jack Zamary – who are also part of a group of residents who are appealing the BUDR approval in Middletown Superior Court – meet with town zoning officials to work out a proposal. But the commissioners offered mixed opinions of the idea during an informal discussion of the residents’ preliminary application.
Vice Chair Dwayne Xenelis, the lone commissioner to vote against the BUDR application, said he didn’t think marijuana retailers should be allowed in the area, and he would support the application.
Commissioner Mike Engels said he wished that the commission heard the outcry against marijuana retailers before it wrote the regulations allowing BUDR to apply as a retail outlet for marijuana. He said earlier opposition probably would have swayed him to oppose allowing marijuana stores in the first place, but that now he was unsure.
“When all this started, six months, a year ago, that business was a retail liquor store, and a laundromat,” Engels said. “So we started the whole process of this thing saying, ‘Okay, what’s the difference between the two?’ and that’s where this came about. I’m very much in favor of business in a business building, and I didn’t see any difference if you went from a liquor store to a retail cannabis.”
Chair Harry Ruppenicker, Jr. made it clear that if the commission changes the regulation now, BUDR will still be allowed to open. He said he was concerned about the commission turning the marijuana store into a pre-existing, non-conforming use just three months after approving it.
Ruppenicker suggested a compromise – expanding the distance required between any two marijuana retailers, which he said would effectively eliminate the possibility of any future marijuana stores in that zone. Russell said they preferred banning it from the zone entirely, but said they would discuss options with town staff and bring a formal proposal to the commission.