STAMFORD – True to its function, the Planning Board this week signaled likely revisions to the city’s landscape.
Board members approved a zoning change that will allow redevelopment of a busy corner in the heart of downtown, and they cleared the way for two more marijuana dispensaries that would bring the city to its limit of five.
The Planning Board considers applications and votes to recommend whether the Zoning Board should approve them.
So the Planning Board sets the table.
The first request involved the 120,000-square-foot freestanding building at Broad and Summer streets that has been a retail anchor since the 1960s. For decades it was a Caldor discount department store, a downtown landmark. Now it’s a Burlington clothing store.
The plan for the site is unclear. Land-use consultant Rick Redniss went before the Planning Board seeking conformity for what he called a “split zone” – regulations now allow building heights of 150 feet in one section of the property and 75 feet in the other.
Redniss requested a zone change to permit 85-foot buildings in the second section. It complies with the recently updated building code, Redniss said, and the property-wide 85-foot height “is important to how this whole site lays out.”
Redniss offered no details about what is planned for the corner, but Planning Board Chair Theresa Dell asked him about a possible apartment building.
Dell wanted to know whether the required Below Market Rate units would be on site, or whether the developer would pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund instead.
She asked because central downtown “is where we want our BMR units to be,” Dell said.
“That’s the developer’s option, subject to your approval,” Redniss replied, but “we don’t know who the developer will be.”
A very busy corner
Planning Board documents list the owners of 74 and 96 Broad Street as GBR Broad & Summer LLC, and a Florida company called Rubford LLC.
State business records show that GBR Broad & Summer is an affiliate of Gibraltar Management Co. of Tarrytown, N.Y., a corporate, commercial, residential and real estate development and management firm.
Gibraltar posted on its website that the property is situated at a heavily traveled intersection where, each day, more than 16,400 vehicles travel on Broad Street and 15,300 on Summer Street. It says 44,818 people live within a mile of the site.
Planning Board member Stephen Perry seemed concerned about what might happen there.
“So this allows you to build to 150 feet?” Perry asked Redniss.
“It’s already allowed” but “not what we suspect will happen,” Redniss said.
“So 150 feet tall is a remote chance?” Perry asked.
“Yes, it’s remote,” Redniss said.
Planning Board members voted unanimously to recommend that the Zoning Board allow the zone change.
The Planning Board then took up the requests for marijuana dispensaries, one at 417 Shippan Ave. and the other at 389 West Main St.
Dell said the board had “received quite a few letters in opposition” to the proposal from Ayr Wellness Inc. to open a medical- and recreational-use marijuana dispensary in a former Bank of America building on Shippan Avenue.
The opposition includes Building One Community, a non-profit group that works to integrate immigrant families and operates on the second floor of the building, Dell said. Other organizations with offices nearby, the Knights of Columbus and Americares, also oppose the application because they “have children going in and out,” Dell said. Besides that, Cummings Park is across the street, she said.
The city prohibits marijuana dispensaries within 2,000 feet of a school, “so I want the legal department to weigh in on the proximity to children all around,” Dell said. “I want to know if these situations with children are considered schools.”
But the legal department has already weighed in, said Joseph Capalbo, the attorney for Ayr Wellness. It happened after the Zoning Board rejected the application of another marijuana retailer, Sweetspot, in July.
The Zoning Board decided that Sweetspot’s High Ridge Road site in the Bull’s Head shopping center was not right for a dispensary because it is near a tutoring service, pediatric medical office and other businesses that serve children.
Sweetspot sued, the court found in its favor, and the case was settled last month.
The city attorney “settled that appeal and let it go forward, so I don’t think there’s an issue,” Capalbo told Dell.
Some board members said they were not as concerned as Dell, since state law prohibits marijuana dispensaries from advertising on building exteriors, requires tinted windows, and mandates that products are locked in vaults inside the store. To enter, customers must present identification showing they are older than 21.
Stricter than liquor
“Children are protected, as they are not allowed in,” member Michael Totilo said. “I think this is a good location for this. Having a park across the street doesn’t mean people will congregate in a secure site.”
Fellow board member Bill Levin agreed.
“I think there are adequate protections. They’re not allowing anybody in except under strict supervision,” Levin said. “It’s more strict than it is with liquor stores or smoke shops.”
Member Jay Tepper thought differently.
“These facilities are not allowed in close proximity to schools for valid reasons,” Tepper said. “This is across from a park with ballfields, a beach, and children. I think there are far better locations to put this facility, and I am strictly opposed to this application.”
Dell said the application meets all the zoning regulations but she proposed approval with a stipulation that the law department review it. The stipulation says the Planning Board recommends that the Zoning Board deny the application if city attorneys find that the school proximity restriction applies.
Planning Board members voted 4-1 to approve the Ayr Wellness application with the stipulation.
An ‘ideal location’
The application from the second marijuana retailer, Budr Cannabis, passed unanimously with the same stipulation.
Capalbo, who also represents Budr, said the site is a one-story building with 20 parking spaces in a commercial neighborhood zone of many small businesses.
“This is probably an ideal location,” Capalbo said.
“This is a location where a place like this belongs,” Tepper said.
“I don’t have any issues,” Levin said.
Dell proposed the proximity to children stipulation because the Yerwood Community Center and a church are nearby.
If the Zoning Board approves the Ayr and Budr applications, they will be the city’s fourth and fifth marijuana dispensaries. Fine Fettle is in business on Research Drive in Glenbrook, and Curaleaf operates on East Main Street on the East Side. Sweetspot is set to open soon at Bull’s Head.
But a question remains about Nautilus Botanicals, a Bridgeport company that has sued the Zoning Board for denying its application to open a dispensary at 1110 East Main St. Zoning Board members were concerned about traffic and parking.