Controversy over proposed cannabis store in Canton heats up in advance of second hearing installment
Update: The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission closed this public hearing Feb. 21 but did not take a vote. It has scheduled a special meeting on March 1 to begin deliberating on the matter. Newer story to come.
By John Fitts
CANTON – The figurative sparks could fly Feb. 21 as the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission continues its 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.
At the first installment of the public hearing on Jan. 18 the commission heard about the company’s plans for the old Bank of America site. It also heard comments from numerous residents, including many from Canton Valley Circle - the road from which the business is primarily accessed. Many of those residents expressed concerns about potential traffic, and neighborhood impact. Some town residents also suggested the business would send the wrong message to kids and a few asserted it would attract a criminal element. Since the Jan. 18 meeting, some of the residents retained an attorney and at least one other witness who is refuting traffic estimates provided in the application.
The Slap Ash application touts the high level of security required by the state and proposed for the building and notes the business would operate much like a jewelry store in that salespeople retrieve ordered items that customers order – whether that involves ordering at the store via an iPad or similar device or ahead of time online.
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.
“We’re really excited to be here tonight,” Daniel S. Glissman of MacDermid, Reynolds & Glissman, P.C. said Jan. 18 on behalf of Slap Ash. “We feel we have a great project to present to you and we think this is a fantastic opportunity for the town of Canton.”
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. A commercial building to the east of the bank is also accessed from the street, just a little way before the residential “circle” begins. A variety of landscaping is proposed both for aesthetic and screening purposes.
At the Jan. 18 meeting, Glissman noted several changes from the original application and a filing since then reaffirms several of those, among some other changes and answers to commission questions.
The weekday business hours were originally slated to be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday but the application states that the proposed weekday opening time is now 10 a.m.
The documentation also states it is now proposing additional landscaping to the rear of the building and affirms the company’s commitment to allowing patrons to exit the business through the former bank drive-through lane provided they are taking a right-hand turn on to Route 44. The new application materials also include a note from the state Department of Transportation confirming that the agency is not in favor or creating full access from Route 44.
“To reduce crashes, DOT is encouraging communities to combine driveways and access points wherever possible/feasible. For this develop, CTDOT would encourage and prefer that access to the site remain as is and/or to close the existing driveway access to Route 44,” Natasha Fatu, state safety engineer for DOT, wrote in a document included in the Planning and Zoning Commission's meeting packet for Feb. 21..
The revised application from Slap Ash also states it will put signage and raised curbing to deter people from turning left on to the residential portion of Canton Valley Circle as they exit the business.
And while it affirms the commitment to creating four new spaces on site, the applicant says it is no longer seeking to use six spaces at neighboring LAVA Motors, after the public and commission members spoke against that idea.
The new material also notes that the business is still committed to an idea mentioned at the meeting – to hire a police officer, parking lot attendant and take online orders only for the first two weeks of operation.
The application team asserts that that move, combined with the fact that the state will be past the initial rush and novelty of legalizes adult use cannabis by the time it opens. An exact timeframe for opening was not given at that meeting.
The team and town officials have provided information from existing dispensaries asserting that traffic concerns generally lessen over time.
In its traffic analysis, 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.
The application also includes data and direct “surveys” from some other cannabis retailers in Connecticut and Massachusetts and the company contends that with those observations and quick customer turnover in the industry, parking at the site is more than adequate.
“As detailed above, Slap Cannabis LLC has conducted a thorough analysis of the capacity of the business at the proposed location of 195 Albany Turnpike, Canton, Connecticut,” one document states. “In assessing the above relevant data, Slap Cannabis concludes that the proposed site has parking and operational capacity that far exceeds what will be needed to accommodate the store’s anticipated demand based on industry-standard calculations.”
Those assertions are being challenged, however. Canton Valley Circle property owners Arnold and Jill Goldman and Jordan Toussaint have retained Attorney David J. Markowitz of Hassett & George, P.C. He has submitted testimony for the Feb. 21 meeting from Dr. Peter Revay, a “computational Social Scientific Doctor,” that challenges some of the traffic generation estimates in the application. Revay asserts the counts “should not be considered an accurate estimate with any degree of confidence.”
Revay contends the numbers don’t account for current traffic in Canton Valley Circle or “follow best mathematical practices.” While the Fuss & O’Neill report estimates afternoon peak hour trips at 58, for example, Revay claims that models that follow "best practices" show that number could be as high as 202.
Markowitz has also included other documentation to the commission including a 2016 Road Safety Audit for the greater Canton Town Green area, as well as statistics about the area and neighborhood and asserts the application does not meet several of the special permit criteria, including suitable location for use, which speaks to the impact of neighboring properties and adequate transportation conditions.
“The applicant’s special permit application fails to meet the minimum requirements enacted to protect the public health, safety and convenance; and fails to meet the standards set forth in the regulations. We respectful ask the commission to deny Slap Ash special permit application, in accordance with; The Canton Zoning Regulations, The Canton 21-4-2024 Plan of Conservation and Development Strategic Plan, The Canton Village district’s form-based code, The May 23, 2016, Safety Audit and the [state’s] general statute 8.2."
Traffic at recreational dispensaries is something the commission has discussed, both when adopting cannabis regulations in May of 2022, in this application and in a previous application from another party for a facility at 325 Albany Turnpike, which was denied by the commission, largely due to traffic, capacity and operational concerns for that site and application.
Part of the difficulty for land use boards has been the new nature of this type of business in the state as recreational sales only began last month.
Included for the Feb. 21 meeting are reports from Canton town staff about operations in other parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
While no other roadway network and site would mirror Canton exactly, most officials in the Massachusetts towns with dispensaries said traffic concerns were present initially but have been minimal to non-existent in recent years.
“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.”
The examples above are just a sample of what is in the application materials and the commission will likely receive numerous traffic related opinions at the meeting.
Additionally, many residents are likely to again fight the proposal on other grounds as well.
Some residents want town officials to take more action about the dispensary, looking for something similar to Simsbury, which is in the process of likely implementing an 18-month ordinance to ban such establishments. Simsbury initially placed a year-long moratorium and last November, the Zoning Commission extended that another six months as it was working on regulations. Several Simsbury selectmen, however, then decided to propose the 18-month ban - with possible future extensions – in the hopes that residents would force a town referendum on the issue as allowed the state law.
Some want Canton to take similar action.
Resident David Lloyd recently wrote a letter to the town, stating, in part, “Seems to me the BOS can rightfully restrict inappropriate land use to help preserve our reputation as an attractive, historic Farmington Valley suburban refuge,” he wrote. “Do we really want mind-altering drug retailers in our midst?"
That is not a direction the Canton Board of Selectmen has taken and any changes now would not affect this application, according to several officials. For example, if residents forced a refendum vote for the next general election, the state law notes that "any class of cannabis establishments already allowed in a municipality shall not be affected by any vote."
On Sunday afternoon, First Selectman Robert Bessel expressed confidence in the Planning and Zoning Commission's abilities to weigh the evidence before it.
"The selectmen have every confidence that the Planning and Zoning Commission will look at the facts and decide this matter fairly on behalf of the town," Bessel said.
The continuation of the canton hearing is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Canton Community Center, room F. See the agenda and directions for watching the meeting remotely here.
See the meeting packet here.
Comments about the application can be sent to email@example.com
For our previous story on the January meeting, visit https://www.valleypressextra.com/post/canton-commission-continues-hearing-for-proposed-cannabis-retail-facility