STAMFORD – The city Monday inched toward its self-imposed limit of five marijuana dispensaries.
The Zoning Board voted to approve one for a small shopping center at Bull’s Head, under conditions reached in a court settlement. The dispensary, Sweetspot, will be Stamford’s third.
Board members took no action on an application for a potential fourth marijuana dispensary, Nautilus Botanicals, seeking to open on East Main Street. Members requested more traffic data and will discuss the application again later this month.
The Zoning Board’s court settlement with Sweetspot Stamford stems from a lawsuit filed in July, when the company alleged that members acted arbitrarily, and contrary to city regulations and state law, in denying its application to open a dispensary at 111 High Ridge Road.
The board rejected SweetSpot’s application in June, saying the proposal did not fit the mixed-residential neighborhood, was too close to businesses that serve children, and would add traffic in an area already under development.
The board had already approved two dispensaries, now up and running – Fine Fettle at 12 Research Drive and Curaleaf at 814 East Main St.
According to court documents, Sweetspot Stamford and its landlord, A&F High Ridge, have agreed to drop their appeal of the Zoning Board’s decision to deny the marijuana dispensary application on these, and other, terms:
- The dispensary will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, and hours may not be extended without Zoning Board approval.
- Sweetspot must hire a police officer to direct traffic for two months after opening, and extend that for two additional months if city engineers determine traffic to be a problem.
- Sweetspot must hire a security guard for the first four weeks after opening.
- For the first four weeks, retail marijuana sales may only be ordered online and picked up.
- For the first two months, sales of just medical marijuana will be allowed between the after-school hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, in response to concerns that other businesses in the shopping center cater to children.
- Sweetspot must collect traffic data for the first 30 days of operation and submit it to the Zoning Board. If traffic is a problem, Sweetspot must make changes determined by city engineers.
- Sweetspot must work with a community advocacy group to conduct addiction prevention sessions once a quarter for the first year. Sweetspot also must contribute $20,000 to a charity dedicated to child welfare.
- A & F High Ridge agreed not to lease any portion of the shopping center to a smoke shop for as long as a marijuana dispensary operates there.
- Sweetspot agreed to make every effort to ensure that at least 65 percent of its initial employees are Stamford residents.
On the five-member Zoning Board, Rosanne McManus, Bill Morris and Chair David Stein voted to approve the Sweetspot application. Members Gerald Bosak Jr. and Racquel Smith-Anderson opposed it.
Stamford native Jason Webski, chief executive officer of Sweetspot, said in July before filing the lawsuit against the Zoning Board that members had conceded that the company had addressed their concerns about the dispensary but voted it down anyway because they didn’t think it was a good idea. “It was more about them making judgments about the cannabis consumer and industry,” Webski told CT Examiner at the time.
Contacted Tuesday, Webski said he had no comment about the court settlement.
Sweetspot spurs regulations
Residents of the Bull’s Head area and owners of other businesses in the shopping center came out strongly against Sweetspot’s proposal, and members of the zoning and planning boards generally concurred.
They questioned how many marijuana retailers the city should accommodate; they were concerned about the number of residences and schools in the area; and they were uncertain about how much traffic will be generated by Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, Shake Shack, Starbuck’s and a Whole Foods grocery being constructed at Bull’s Head.
After the Sweetspot decision, the Zoning Board crafted its first regulations specific to dispensaries that sell marijuana for both recreational and medical use, and to smoke shops.
The regulations limit Stamford to one recreational cannabis retailer for every 25,000 residents. The city has nearly 138,000 residents, so the cap is five.
They prohibit smoke shops and marijuana dispensaries from operating within 3,000 feet of any other such store, or within 1,000 feet of a public or private school.
And the regulations require that smoke shops may open only with a special permit from the Zoning Board. Before, smoke shops required no zoning approval.
No compulsion to comply
The application from Nautilus Botanicals to operate a marijuana dispensary at 1110 East Main St., a mile from Curaleaf on East Main, was filed a few weeks before the Zoning Board passed the regulations, so they don’t apply.
But the company’s land-use attorney, Lisa Feinberg, told the Zoning Board Monday night that Nautilus Botanicals’ proposal complies just the same. The dispensary would operate in a 1965 building that for many years was the Just Cats grooming and boarding facility, and more recently a small grocer.
Zoning Board members immediately had questions about the problems that plague the area – traffic on busy, multi-lane East Main Street, which handles vehicles entering and leaving Interstate 95 at Exit 9; and parking shortages on the densely populated East Side.
Board members were dismayed to learn that Nautilus Botanicals is proposing only five parking spaces plus one handicapped space for customers, plus 10 spaces for employees in a lot on nearby Maher Avenue.
Company representative Connie DeBoever said the need for parking spaces will be mitigated by Nautilus Botanicals’ plan to deliver cannabis products to customers’ homes.
That will work for sales because, unlike Stamford, the surrounding towns of Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Westport have banned marijuana dispensaries, DeBoever said.
The state requires separate licenses for marijuana delivery services and has issued 10 of them, but until at least five are up and running, dispensaries may offer their own delivery service, she said.
Nautilus Botanicals is estimating sales based on “the fact that there are not a lot of stores in Connecticut, and nearby towns have moratoriums,” DeBoever told the Zoning Board. Delivery tends to result in larger orders “because we can impose a minimum” she said, and delivery works for “people who might not want to make the drive into Stamford.”
Buy weed where you live
That comment did not escape East Side and Glenbrook residents who spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
“If people don’t want to come to Stamford to buy their weed, then build the dispensary where they live,” said resident Jackie Pioli, who lives near the Curaleaf dispensary. “There’s already so much traffic up and down the Post Road, and the people who come to the dispensary to buy their weed don’t always leave. In the summer I don’t open my bedroom windows because all I smell is marijuana. That parking lot has become a party spot for the East Side.”
Eileen Harring of East Main Street said Nautilus Botanicals’ parking plan is inadequate, and there’s no room for error. Customers will use her apartment building parking lot, which is already full, Harring said.
“If they can’t park there, they’ll go to Standish Road, which is full of cars from the overflow of people who live in the Fairlawn buildings, because they don’t have enough parking, either,” Harring said.
Jennifer Glen of Maple Avenue said the proposed dispensary site beside I-95 and U.S. Route 1, which is East Main Street, is “not an appropriate place.”
“It’s too condensed an area. Cars come out of nowhere to cross the four lanes of East Main. It’s bad enough as it is. The city already has two (dispensaries) right down the road” – Curaleaf one mile away and Fine Fettle a mile and a half away, Glen said. “Pick somewhere else for this.”
Not all speakers were opposed. Ashley Petrie of Tresser Boulevard, a medical marijuana patient who has worked at dispensaries, said she welcomes another one.
“There’s traffic everywhere in Stamford. You can’t get away from it,” Petrie said. “This is accessible from the highway. I would love to see this dispensary there.”
Holly Hager of Forest Street said she also is a medical marijuana patient who works in the industry. Dispensaries are well-run and cause few problems, Hager said.
“If you order online, it takes five minutes to pick up” in the store, she said. “I understand people are frightened by it, but it is medicine, and a lot of us really need it.”
The Zoning Board chair asked Feinberg to gather more detailed data on East Main Street traffic and bring it to the Oct. 30 Zoom meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. To access meetings, visit https://www.stamfordct.gov/government/boards-commissions/zoning-board/-folder-1669#docan1762_2920_461 and look under 2023 agendas.