Simsbury commission sets public hearings on retail cannabis
By Paul Palmer
SIMSBURY – Residents of Simsbury will have the chance to express their opinions on the topic of recreational marijuana growth and sales at a pair of public hearings. The Town Zoning Commission has set Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Simsbury Public Library for input on the proposed language for an amendment on whether or not allow the growth and retail sales in town. The second hearing that same night and time will solicit input on the question of extending the current moratorium on the business for another six months. It is set to expire on Nov. 8 if no action is taken on an extension.
The draft amendment as it stands now would allow for retail cannabis sale and manufacturing and cultivation by special exception in limited locations. It would ban all of those activities in the Center Zone or Hartford-Simsbury. The language is preliminary and based of months of dialogue between the Zoning Commission, the Planning Department as well as the Town Attorney. The actual language in the amendment will be presented at the hearings. The Commission wants to hear from residents and then decide what their next step would be. They could preserve the wording as submitted at the hearing, or rewrite some or all of it based on public comments. The Commission would vote whether or not to allow the special exception or to vote to not allow it at a later date.
At the Commission’s Sept. 19 meeting, member Bruce Elliott pointed out that the role of Commission members is to “create something to support something and then we vote it up or down.” He discussed the perception that the Commission was leaning one way or the other. Elliott added, “We have an obligation to vote what’s important to the people of Simsbury.”
The second Public Hearing- taking place at the same time, place, and location, will ask residents if the town should extend its current moratorium. Under the state statutes, any municipality that does not have a moratorium, and does not act on the issue will have by default agreed to allow the businesses.
No matter what the Zoning Commission decides on the issues, it might not be the end of things. The Board of Selectmen sought guidance from the Town Attorney regarding their ability to ban the sales and manufacturing in Town. When asked in writing if the Board of Selectmen could expressly prohibit the use, town Attorney Robert DeCrescenzo responded that the Board does have the right to do that, but it must be enacted by ordinance. If selectmen took that route, and approved an ordinance, any decision by the Zoning Commission would be moot.
There is yet a third possibility that could decide the issue in Simsbury. Voters could gather the signatures of 10% of the registered voters in Town and make it a ballot question in a regular election. If that were to happen, the result of the referendum would overrule both the Zoning Commission and the Board of Selectmen’s decision. It was pointed out at the Sept. 19 meeting that there is not enough time left in the calendar year to get a referendum drawn up and voted upon, so I would have to wait until at least 2023.