Canton commission continues hearing for proposed cannabis retail facility
By John Fitts
CANTON – On. Feb. 21, the Planning and Zoning Commission is set to resume a public hearing for a proposed retail cannabis 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.
The building on the site is a former Bank of America branch with frontage on both Canton Valley Circle and Route 44. Primary access would be from Canton Valley Circle and, in its modified plans, the company has proposed allowing the former bank drive through lane as a way to exit the property for those turning right onto Route 44.
Slap Ash is seeking a special permit and site plan modification in the Canton Village Design Village District. The Canton commission held a public hearing and approved adult-use recreational cannabis facility regulations in May of 2022. Slap Ash, LLC, is majority owned by Ashley Vaughn. Her business partner is Amanda Ostrowitz.
In a public hearing that began the evening of Jan. 18, an attorney for the company spoke of the growing cannabis industry, the security plans for the facility and aspects of retail sales - such as multiple identification checks, secure entrance and exit vestibules and the ability to order ahead of time. He also noted that customers do not handle any products ahead of time but rather that the sales workers retrieve the items being purchased in a sales setting similar to a jewelry store.
“We’re really excited to be here tonight. We feel we have a great project to present to you and we think this is a fantastic opportunity for the town of Canton,” said Daniel S. Glissman of MacDermid, Reynolds & Glissman, P.C.
Glissman also talked of changes the company made to its initial application, which included offering additional screening behind the facility, delaying opening time until 10 a.m., the option of adding four additional parking spaces to the 21 that exist today, and a proposal to hire a Canton police officer and only accept pre-orders at the facility for the first two weeks of operation.
Glissman said he has approximately 9 years of experience in the industry and said the facility, by the time it opened, would be past that initial rush of legalized recreational sales that states have experienced. (Adult use recreational cannabis sales in Connecticut started Jan. 10.)
“We anticipate by the time this facility were to get open, if it were approved and ultimately licensed by the Department of Consumer protection, that this would be somewhere between the 30th and 40th store. … “[That] is important for this project as it relates to initial demand and sort of the traffic we can expect at this facility.”
Other members of the application team also spoke to the commission presenting information of traffic conditions, landscaping and more.
The application also touts the 3 percent municipal tax that Canton would receive from sales at the facility. It estimates that would mean $150,000 to $300,000 to the town annually. Funding uses for that money would be limited but streetscape work, education programs, civic engagement services, and mental health and addiction services are some of the approved uses.
Numerous residents spoke at the public hearing, a few in support, but many against. Residents of Canton Valley Circle were particularly vocal in expressing concerns of traffic, and other neighborhood impact.
“I am scared to death of the traffic,” said David Duff, a resident of the street. “Scooters bicycles, wagons. We have a lot of kids in the neighborhood. We have 22 families. I can’t emphasize enough this is residential street. I am against this. ...I think there’s going to be hundreds of cars during the course of couple, three weeks or more and the continuation. I picture cars pulling on to Canton Valley Circle, going around the circle and parking, because there is no parking. That’s been stated over and over and over.”
Other residents raised concerns as well, with some alleging the business would attract a bad element and/or send the wrong message to kids.
Dr. Arnold Goldman also spoke to the impact to the neighborhood, which he said would be unknown until after the approval is given and it's too late but also asserted such a business should not be so visible.
"I also mention in my letter this idea of having this type of business so overt and so open and so visible that our children will see it," he said. "The children in the neighborhood will see it. Those on the school bus from other neighborhoods will see it and they’re going to get the impression that the use of substances to alter the mind is a normal, acceptable thing that everyone should just do. I hear these words – recreational. I think of fishing and volleyball when I think of recreation. … it’s a euphemism. So yeah, I get it, it’s legal but where it’s allowed to be placed. That’s the thing if you ask where In canton could such a thing be - Powder Mill Road, Ramp Road, River Road – in one of the industrial buildings where it’s not so visible. And the customers can find it because they’re going to find it on the internet and learn where that is. This shouldn’t be in a neighborhood where children see it. It shouldn’t be highly visible. It’s an adult activity in my mind, no different than an adult book store or other business of the type that only adults should see."
A few residents who spoke, however, said the business would bring needed revenue to town and fill an empty building in the town’s commercial corridor.
"I’m on the Board of Finance. I’m not speaking for the Board of Finance but I do want to say that one thing the Town of Canton has been trying to do is to really fully develop our route 44 corridor that is our business corridor in town," said Sarah Faulkner. "We try very hard to not have businesses go into neighborhoods. We try to keep them in a business area and 44 is the corridor and you know I’m sorry, but that’s where it is. This [was] a bank. It’s right across the street from a number of businesses in all directions. I would very much like to see that building reused. Given it is a bank building it seems to lend itself pretty well to the idea of having a very secure facility for cannabis and cannabis, whether you like it or not, it is the state law now, it is a legal substance. I think the applicants have a good, sound plan for trying to keep it really well controlled and as quiet as possible."
Faulkner, who did speak in favor of having full access to the business from Route 44 also spoke to the cannabis scene in a neighboring state.
"I did a little research into to how things have been running in Massachusetts and an earlier speaker mentioned that there was a big sort of rush initially when the stores first opened but they quieted down very quickly and right now there are no lines," she said. "There's no rush; there’s no heavy traffic going into the stores in Massachusetts. Part of that is there are more stores and we’ll see more stories coming into Connecticut over time also. So, we might have a little more traffic initially but I really think it’s going to calm down so I tend to think this is not going to be a big impact on 44 or, more importantly, on the neighborhood.”
Resident and businessman Steven Stang, who did not speak that evening but wrote to the commission, said dispensaries he has visited in Massachusetts "were the most sophisticated, highly regulated, clean and professional businesses in the area."
"These are not the old 'head shops' of yesterday," he wrote. "School kids don't wander into them. They are modern and intensely regulated businesses and should be treated as such. Please allow this very reasonable application. The community will be benefitted."
While the applicant’s traffic study contends peak traffic will be very similar to the bank operation, many residents - and some commissioners – challenged those numbers and/or asserted it was hard to predict volumes. Some commission members also had concerns about the applicant’s proposal to lease six employee parking spots from a neighboring business.
Additionally, the commission asked the applicant to get a little more information on some aspects of the application, including asking the state Department of Transportation about the possibility of using only Route 44 to access the business. While Matthew Skelly of Fuss and O’Neill – and some commissioners - did not believe the state would be open to that idea – Glissman said the applicant would be amenable to asking the question, incorporating some other suggestions and getting additional information sought by the commission.
As the next meeting approaches, generally by the previous Friday, residents can visit https://townofcantonct.org/agendas-minutes-meetings to find the agenda, time and location, as well as the meeting packet.
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Editor's Note: Additional details on both of these project votes will be included in our June 2 edition of The Valley Press. By Paul Palmer Staff Writer FARMINGTON – The Farmington Plan and Zoning Com