Marijuana Decision in Stamford Faces Possible Legal Challenge

East Main Street site of proposed marijuana dispensary rejected by the Zoning Board (CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – Another rejection, another possible lawsuit.

Five months ago, the Zoning Board turned down an application from a company called Sweetspot to open a marijuana dispensary on High Ridge Road at Bull’s Head. Sweetspot sued.

This week, the Zoning Board turned down an application from Nautilus Botanicals to open a dispensary on East Main Street. Now Connie DeBoever, a partner with Merida Capital, the New York City private equity firm backing Nautilus Botanicals, says the company is “consulting with our attorneys and will determine whether to pursue legal action.”

A Sweetspot executive charged in July that the Zoning Board based its decision on feelings and judgments more than evidence, but in the Nautilus Botanicals case board members came prepared to their meeting with a Resolution for Denial of Application. They then voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

It spells out their reasons, citing specific zoning regulations, for rejecting Nautilus Botanicals’ request for a special permit to operate a marijuana dispensary at 1110 E. Main St. for medical patients and recreational users. According to the resolution, the application was denied because:

  • Customers would enter the dispensary from Standish Road, a congested residential street, which “will cause inconvenience to the public.”
  • Nautilus Botanicals’ traffic study “inadequately accounted for” traffic volume because it failed to consider that East Main Street, or U.S. Route 1, is “one of the major traffic arteries of Stamford,” and intersects with the on- and off-ramps to Interstate 95 Exit 9. The traffic and parking plan is not equipped to handle the demand that would be created by the company’s intent to attract customers from Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich, which ban dispensaries, and provide delivery.
  • The zoning enforcement officer determined that the dispensary must have eight on-site parking spaces, but the company proposed six. That will cause customers to park on surrounding streets that are already bumper-to-bumper with residents’ cars.
  • Any off-site parking must be within 500 feet of the building’s main entrance, but the company’s plan for parking on Maher Road does not meet that criteria. 
  • The surrounding residential area would be adversely affected by the long hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.

Despite the resolution and citing of regulations, DeBoever said Wednesday the decision “felt underhanded.” 

“We were frustrated and disappointed with the Zoning Board’s decision as we felt the decision was made unfairly. This was a complete surprise given our approval by the Planning Board in August,” DeBoever said. “At the last minute and after our hearing had been closed, we were informed that the city decided to implement its own interpretation of our space usage in order to increase the parking requirements. This was their primary basis for denial. We felt it was unfair given our inability to address or negotiate with the city, as well as how long the process took.”

Nautilus Botanicals “consulted with the city at length” before filing its application in June, she said. 

“We did not hear any objections and complied with their requests for traffic studies, landscaping plans and offsite parking. At the end of the day, if the city was not in favor of cannabis, it would have been appreciated if they had been more forthcoming and saved us the time and money of going through this process.”

Zoning Board members have said they do not comment on decisions that may involve litigation.

Before Sweetspot filed a lawsuit against the Zoning Board in July, the chief executive officer, Jason Webski, said members had conceded that his company satisfied the regulations but they nevertheless looked for a reason to reject the application because they were “making judgments about the cannabis consumer and industry.” Webski said he concluded that some on the board “think they are protecting the community from terrible drug people.”

Four of five Zoning Board members voted against the Sweetspot proposal for 111 High Ridge Road, backing neighbors who said it would be too close to their homes; share a shopping center with businesses that serve children; and generate more traffic in a congested area. Sweetspot alleged that the board acted arbitrarily, and contrary to city zoning regulations and state law. 

In October the Zoning Board settled with Sweetspot, allowing it to operate at Bull’s Head on conditions that mitigate concerns about traffic and safety. Among the conditions are that Sweetspot must solve any traffic problems that arise, and the board may regulate hours of operation if that creates issues.

Nautilus Botanicals also appeared before the Zoning Board that month. Given the Sweetspot case, DeBoever asked members to separate their feelings about marijuana from their consideration of the regulations. Cannabis is medicine for patients suffering from cancer, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other diseases, and “akin to alcohol” for recreational users, DeBoever said.

After the Zoning Board rejected the Sweetspot application this summer, the Land Use Bureau wrote the city’s first regulations for dispensaries that sell marijuana for recreational and medical use. The regulations do not apply to Nautilus Botanicals because the company’s application was filed before they were passed.

The regulations limit Stamford to one recreational cannabis retailer for every 25,000 residents, which means the cap is five. Stamford now has three hybrid dispensaries – Sweetspot, Fine Fettle at 12 Research Drive, and Curaleaf at 814 East Main St.

Marijuana dispensaries, and smoke shops, are prohibited from operating within 3,000 feet of any other such store, or within 1,000 feet of a any school. The regulations require that smoke shops obtain a special permit from the Zoning Board in order to open. Before, smoke shops required no zoning approval.

Nautilus Botanicals was seeking to operate in a 1965 building on East Main Street that for many years was the Just Cats grooming and boarding facility, and more recently a grocer.

Nautilus Botanicals CEO Luis Vega did not return a request for comment.

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.