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Canton commission closes hearing on proposed cannabis facility

Deliberations to begin March 1

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

CANTON – The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on Feb. 21 closed a public hearing for a proposed cannabis retail facility at 195 Albany Turnpike.

Slap Ash, LLC, which plans to do business as Slap Cannabis, is seeking a special permit and site plan modification for the property from the Planning and Zoning Commission. A special permit, under zoning law, differs from an “as of right” use. The “as of right” uses can generally be approved by Planning and Zoning or town staff with a site plan application, provided a proposal meets the zoning regulations. (Some applications also require other town and/or state approvals).

Special permits, however, apply to certain uses that are “generally” accepted in a zone and require the Planning and Zoning commission to determine if that use is right for the particular property. With special permits, the commission must hold a public hearing and also must also consider additional factors such as suitable location for use, suitable transportation conditions and nuisance avoidance.

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. She also said she chose Canton deliberately for the business site.

“We’re not big cannabis,” Ostrowitz told the commission. “We are a small team with a deep breadth of cannabis industry experience.”

Ostrowitz said the unexpected chance to sell a business she started – a database tracking government regulations - made her ventures possible, including the Canton site.

She also said Canton was a deliberate choice and the business would love to be part of the community.

“There was a site we liked that complied with the rules of where these needed to be. This was an up-and- coming corridor in Canton,” she said. We’ve seen so much development in Canton and we want to be a part of that wave. We felt in a town where there was a lot of development being encouraged that we could contribute to this community in a meaningful way and in alignment with the economic development goals of this community.”

Proposed dispensary hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday and the business hopes to open in the fall.

The former bank is approximately 3,042 square feet in size with 21 existing parking spaces, with a primary entrance and exit on Canton Valley Circle.

At public hearing installments on Jan. 18 and Feb. 21, the commission heard about the company’s plans for the old Bank of America site, as well as public comment, much of which came from residents from Canton Valley Circle - the road from which the business is primarily accessed. That street involves a short straight section off of Route 44 that serves two business buildings, followed by a residential “circle.”

At the Feb. 21 hearing, the application team talked about the operation of the business and changes it has made in response to concerns, such as signage and raised curbing to discourage people leaving the site out of Canton Valley Circle from turning into the residential neighborhood, delaying opening time until 10 a.m., adding 4 to 5 new parking spaces to augment the existing 21 spaces, and allowing people to exit the business via the former bank drive though, provided they are turning right on to Route 44. The state is not in favor of full access from Route 44 as some requested, according to a letter provided in application materials. The applicant said the business - for the first two weeks of operation – would also hire a police officer and parking attendant and only take online orders.

In applicant’s traffic analysis for the application, Matthew Skelly of Fuss & O’Neill, estimates 58 vehicle trips during the afternoon “peak hour” and 88 during the Saturday peak hour. Those numbers are similar to their drive-through bank estimates of 64 and 80, it asserts.

While he talked about other aspects of traffic and parking, such turnover rates, Skelly spoke to the process of trip generation using the latest Institute of Transportation Engineers manual.

“The important piece here is that going off the industry accepted standard, the previous use, as far as traffic is concerned, would operate nearly identically to the proposed dispensary,” he said, adding that the numbers represent two trips per customers. The 88 Saturday number, for example, means 44 customers during those peak times, but estimated traffic numbers are much lower in other hours, he said. He also said quick industry turnover times result in more than enough parking.

While Skelly said the latest ITE manual does include traffic counts from northeast dispensaries are included and even lowered projections, he acknowledged that the data points were not as robust as some other, more well-established uses.

“Commission member Lansford Perry noted “that the standard deviation is still greater than the average,” and asked Skelly if he looked at levels of service with higher counts.

“I think many kinds of standard deviations are quite small. In this case it’s very large. Do you think about that at all when you do an analysis?” asked Perry, who also asked if a sensitivity analysis was done.

“I understand that this is a relatively new use for this area and there aren’t a ton of data points out there,” said Skelly, who said the sensitivity analysis was not done. “As more data points come online, that standard deviation gets smaller.”

“Using the ITE data and the information from the trip generation to calculate your level of service is the standard protocol that traffic engineers utilize when analyzing any use - this use and others,” added attorney Daniel Glissman of MacDermid Reynolds & Glissman, P.C. “It’s also a common and standard and accepted practice in evaluating these dispensaries, not just in Canton but in many other communities, other communities in Connecticut that we worked in personally, other communities across the Northeast and the country. Folks rely on the ITE standard because it is the standard for traffic engineers and that is how they operate when analyzing and attempting to predict a future use.”

The applicant team also said they supplemented their traffic analysis with counts from and observation of existing dispensaries.

Canton town staff also reached out to towns with dispensaries in other parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Most officials in the towns with dispensaries said traffic concerns have been minimal to nonexistent, especially after the initial rush when first legalized.

“When it was first legalized years ago and there were only a few open statewide (NETA - one of the first was in Northampton (where I live) traffic was quite an issue, including lines of people/cars, including many from CT, that necessitated police details for probably a couple years,” Westfield, Mass. City planner Jay Vinskey wrote to Canton Assistant Town Planner Nathaniel Jarvie. “Now, however, the market is fairly stabilized and possibly oversaturated in this area (one shop just closed in Northampton - of course we had about 12 of them!) and there are enough dispensaries in other places that it no longer seems to be a regional draw. In fact, most shops that I see regularly have little to no cars at them, and I wonder how they can even stay in business.

In Westfield, our only two shops are located right off the Pike, and there are few others anywhere nearby. They were not part of the first wave of openings, and I have not heard of any unusual traffic or parking issues here.”

Several Canton Valley Circle residents spoke strongly against the application and Arnold and Jill Goldman and Jordan Toussaint hired Attorney David J Markowitz of Hassett & George, P.C. prior to the meeting and included testimony they assert refutes the official traffic study.

Resident Dawn Ryzak was emotional as she spoke to the commission.

“I’m here to plead and beg that you deny this application. … Canton is special. … I picked it because of the location. I can always change my cabinets, my paint, redo my home – but my location stays the same,” Ryzak said. “By you putting this near my residential area, I’m concerned that the value that we put in our homes, is lost because me as a parent, as a person, I wouldn’t buy this home. I would not buy this home today if it were on sale and that breaks my heart because. … My neighbors are my family. These people that we stand by, we’re more to each other than what you can imagine and that’s why we are in Canton. That’s the special part about Canton. You will take that away and that’s what scares me.”

Arnold Goldman also spoke, stating, in part, “I own 31-33 Canton Valley Circle and I have a conflict of interest. Normally, I support business development. Yet, as the abutter, I know that my property value and the quiet enjoyment of my property will be adversely affected, should this application be approved. It’s not just the threat of continual traffic congestion, which is very real, but the likelihood that this particular neighbor is undesirable near a family home. As a caring neighbor, I’m also concerned about similar impacts on the daily lives and home value of those with whom in share Canton Valley Circle. We will all suffer.”

Yet the town has its own conflict of interest,” he added. “Held before us is the tantalizing prospect of new tax revenue, hypothetically estimated at between $150,000 to $300,000. We are asked to weigh the potential benefit of this revenue against the potential for harm to an existing neighborhood, if approval is granted. The problem with these potentials is that the differing realties that follow each of them cannot be proven in advance, with anything close to certainty. It’s all informed guesswork at best. More importantly however, is if the worst imaginable neighborhood impact materializes, it will be impossible to undo the harm. We will have consigned this quiet neighborhood to living with this harm, for at least a generation.”

Toussaint raised several other issues, including her receipt of a copy of the cannabis regulations that included separating distances, language the commission did not adopt in its final approval and which members noted on the record and apologized for human error.

Toussaint claimed there are numerous inaccuracies with the traffic analysis, including showing the exit lane from Canton Valley Circle as having two lanes and failure to note that a bus from Cherry Brook Primary School drops children off in the neighborhood at 4 p.m. or later.

She also asserted that a traffic engineer she consulted identified other issues in the analysis.

“Inaccuracies the applicant submitted to the commission have real-life consequences and the commission accepting these inaccuracies would aggrieve Dr. Goldman, myself and the Canton Valley Circle neighborhood and degrade the intent of the Canton Zoning Regulations,” she said. She also asserted that the commission should not consider anecdotal information about dispensaries gathered by the town, calling it “prejudicial” if the commission does so.

“This anecdotal information provides the commission prejudicial information offering no insight on to how this observation pertains to Canton Zoning Regulations and would aggrieve Dr. Goldman and threaten the Canton Valley Neighborhood if the commission were to consider this information when reviewing the Slap Ash special permit application as it must comply with canton zoning regulations,” she said. “The residents of Canton depend on the commission’s proper interpretation and application of the Canton zoning regulations.

“However, they failed to ask [about] the mitigating language these towns’ cannabis regulations have that protect residential abutters and neighborhoods from undue traffic safety and property value risk deriving from the cannabis establishments.”

She also referenced a submittal from Dr. Peter Revay, “computational Social Scientific Doctor,” which estimated much higher potential traffic counts.

Markowitz reviewed the special permit criteria and asked the commission to carefully consider Toussaint’s testimony that spoke to other dispensaries being separated from residential neighborhoods. He also asked the commission to consider what he said would be great impacts to the neighborhood.

“You can place conditions on the approval of a special permit they’re to lessen the impact on this use on public health, safety and welfare; lesson property impacts and overall neighborhood compatibility. I would say that the conditions in the motions don’t do that and no matter what conditions you put on this application, you will not be able to ameliorate those issues,” Markowitz said, also suggesting that another option for the commission would be to deny without prejudice and allow the applicant to reapply for what he said were delays in submitting information.

Near the end of the meeting, Attorney Joseph L. Hammer, also of MacDermid, Reynolds and Glissman, P.C., defended the traffic report and the supplemental information and said the opposition’s traffic information depended on a statistician who is not a traffic engineer and another person who is not licensed in the state. He urged the commission to disregard the information and Skelly refuted some aspects as well.

Hammer also contended that Skelly has vast experience in other dispensary uses and included the appropriate supplemental information.

Skelly “relied on experience cannabis store traffic impacts in about 50 projects in his career,” Hammer said.

Skelly reiterated that the team relied on the advice of ITE in how to gather more information when a use involves a small sample size.

“I think we followed that advice perfectly,” he said. “We gathered more information and helped to hone our engineering judgment in this case.”

The team also asked the commission to disregard the traffic information from opponents, noting the Revay is not a traffic engineer and Bowman not licensed in the state. Skelly also asserted that some of the information relied on an older ITE manual

Skelly said the width of the exit from Canton Valley Circle is wide enough for two cars but acknowledged it wasn’t striped that way.

“If one car is waiting to take a left, there’s enough room for a car next to it to take a right and that’s what we modeled and we did observe that behavior at our site,” he said.

Perry later said the aspect bothered him that the updated study used the lane that way, when his in “real life” experience, motorists use the middle of the lane and don’t allow room for other cars to pull up.

“I’m sort of surprised that it was used as being two line insofar as it’s not lined as such,” he said. “Maybe it should be and that [could] be a recommendation.”

The application team also spoke to traffic in a larger sense. While the “level of service” is projected to be lower at one approach, the team said the commission, by its regulations, must consider the overall traffic impact.

“I would also note – I think it’s in the traffic report and, as you know, Albany Turnpike has more than 20,000 vehicles a day traveling it on a regular basis,” Hammer said. “We are neutral to the bank use. We are significantly less that the Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks with drive-throughs or the 7-11 convenience store, which are two to three times higher and which can generate intense traffic in the morning peak when people are on their way to work and children are on their way to school and I think that is a highly relevant consideration as well as you evaluate this use, which has considerably less impact that any of those completely as of right uses. “

“It really seems that at the end of the day that the primary concern really, the concern that’s been emphasized by those who oppose this application, is the traffic,” he added a few minutes later. “That’s really it and I just want sort of close this segment by saying again, the uncontroverted evidence is that there will not be an adverse impact.”

Hammer also talked about the special permit criteria and noted the zoning fort he property, the lot, improvements that will be made, the rectifying of an empty building and landscaping. The application also contains points about each of the special permit criteria from the applicant's viewpoint. “At the end of the day we submit to you that the application applies in all respects with both your site plan and your special permit regulations,”Hammer said.

The commission is slated to begin deliberations at a special meeting slated for March 1. Several items that were slated to take place on Feb. 21 will also be discussed that evening, so while a decision on the dispensary is possible, it is also possible the commission could continue the matter for another evening, such as its regularly scheduled meeting on March 15.

The Canton GIS system image shows the subject site - in yellow - and the surrounding area.

A closer view of Canton Valley Circle from the Canton GIS system.

This map, shows the zones in the area. The subject site, shown in yellow, is part of the green area, according to the town GIS system. The CVDVD is the Canton Village Design Village District.

195 Albany Turnpike, a former Bank of America branch.
Daniel S. Glissman of MacDermid, Reynolds & Glissman, P.C. speaks on behalf of the applicant.


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