Canton commission approves retail cannabis facility
By John Fitts
CANTON – The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on March 1 unanimously approved a proposed cannabis retail facility in the former Bank of America building at 195 Albany Turnpike.
Slap Ash, LLC, which plans to do business as Slap Cannabis, sought a special permit and site plan modification for the property from the Planning and Zoning Commission and after holding a public hearing over two nights – Jan. 18 and Feb. 21 – the commission approved the plan late in the evening on March 1.
“We’re really excited about the outcome,” said attorney Daniel S. Glissman of MacDermid Reynolds & Glissman, P.C., who represented the applicant during the project. “I can speak for my clients when I say they’re excited to become part of the business community here in Canton. [We are] grateful for the commission’s thoughtful deliberations. We really think it resulted in a good project.”
Primary access to the business is via Canton Valley Circle, which contains driveways to two businesses buildings on either side of the road just prior to the a residential portion of the street. As the name implies, that residential portion of Canton Valley Circle involves a loop with homes along it and in the middle island. Several of the residents were quite upset at the decision.
The business location is in the Canton Village Design Village District, where many businesses are allowed by “right” and a few by “special permit,” the later which requires that a project meet additional criteria and requires a public hearing.
The edge of the district in this area is along the residential properties.
“The commission willfully and knowingly approved this application where the pertinent zoning amendment failed to comply with Connecticut’s general zoning enabling act, disregarding procedural due process. The procedural due process requirements for adopting or amending zoning is based upon fairly straight forwarded principal and policies,” said Jordan Toussaint, a neighbor who was particularly involved in fighting the proposal and who, along with Dr. Arnold and Jill Goldman, even hired an attorney. “The commission willfully disregarded these principles. We plan to exhaust all options to have this approval overturned.”
One issue that residents have honed in on is separating distances from such a facility to schools, homes and houses of worship. The commission never adopted such language, but it was considered when the commission was working on its regulations last year. In recent weeks, a stamped, draft copy of the regulations with those separating distances was inadvertently given to a member of the public. While the commission put “on the record” that those distances were never adopted and apologized for the error, several of the Canton Valley Circle residents have suggested it’s an issue they believe is relevant.
Residents brought up numerous issues during the hearing, but certainly traffic was one that was discussed at length.
While the application team asserted “peak hour” traffic would be similar to a bank use – and contended that many other uses allowed by right would generate much higher traffic – residents contested many of the details of the traffic study and even presented some alternative findings – although the commission ultimately did not see those as compelling enough to deny the application, or find that the proposal would have a “significant” enough impact to warrant further scrutiny from the commission.
Some commissioner’s expressed sympathy for the concern of area residents but felt the opponents did not prove that traffic would be substantial enough to deny the application, particularly considering that many other high traffic uses would be allowed to occupy the site without a special permit.
The town has deemed Route 44 as its commercial corridor, commissioners also noted.
“When we set up our regulation, we debated and discussed how we were going to treat this use quite extensively,” said Commission chairman Jonathan Thiesse in speaking about the use. “We all came to a consensus that we felt it wasn’t significantly different from many other uses that were allowed – whether that be a small pharmacy, whether that be a package store, any other number of uses. [The commission determined] there was not the need to buffer this use in any way because we didn’t find it different enough. … As much as I can sympathize with some of the testimony, I find it hard, myself, to go back on that when that’s the way we looked at it.”
Thiesse also addressed impacts.
“We talked about headlights. We talked about any number of different impacts, and it all goes back to the same thing. I have a hard time finding any of those impacts that would not exist also with many of these other uses that are more intense, from a traffic standpoint... Again, it’s tough to single this use out as something that’s not appropriate.”
Sandra Trionfini noted the neighborhood concerns in her comments but also said other uses could be more intense in terms of traffic. She also noted that the parcel borders a residential area but is part of a commercial corridor.
“Other towns have realistically and reasonably isolated this use and made regulations around it regarding distances to residences,” she said. “We don’t have that and I think that is unfortunate perhaps, but we have identified 44 as our commercial area and I just don’t see how we can retract from that at this point.”
Slap Ash, LLC, is owned by Ashley Vaughn and Amanda Ostrowitz. While both list out-of-state addresses, Ostrowitz grew up in Glastonbury and Vaughn in Hartford, Ostrowitz told the commission on Feb. 21. She also expressed her excitement to do business in the community.
The building at 195 Albany Turnpike is approximately 3,042 square feet in size with 21 existing parking spaces. The commission accepted the applicant’s proposal to add five additional parking spaces. During the hearing, the applicant also offered that for the first two weeks of operation, the business would hire a traffic attendant, police officer and only accept pre-orders. The commission also imposed that stipulation, with language to extend that time period if necessary. The applicant also offered to post signage and install curbing to discourage patrons to enter the residential portion of the street. Additional screening is also planned, according to the application.
Another condition of approval was that the business must rectify cuing issues if the town’s police chief deems that backups onto Canton Valley Circle became a persistent problem during any particular days and hours of operation.
Planned dispensary hours as proposed are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The business hopes to open in the fall but Glissman acknowledged that a court appeal is possible with any zoning decision.
“Obviously a possibility just like any other zoning project,” he said when asked about the possibility. “We’ll have to deal with it as it comes. Again, we think the deliberations resulted in a really great project and we’re excited to move forward.”