Milford remains hotbed for pot dispensaries, despite concerns of residents
MILFORD >> As city officials work to change zoning laws that have made the city a hot spot for medical marijuana dispensary hopefuls, the Planning and Zoning Board recently approved a site plan for a second facility to open, this time at 318-320 New Haven Ave.
Unlike the one OK’d recently at 255 W. River St., there were no protests from neighbors or residents before the OK for Southern CT Wellness and Healing LLC, owned by the Pearl Corp. and approved by the state to operate a dispensary.
Of 17 medical marijuana facilities proposed in the state, nine were in Milford and all were initially approved by the local zoning enforcement officer, according to documents obtained by the Register.
Two were OK’d by the state Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the program, and those have gotten local site plan approval.
Four were applications for the same address, different applicants, but overall, the city issued zoning compliance letters for potential facilities at 582 Boston Post Road; 972 Boston Post Road; 884 Boston Post Road; 1000 Bridgeport Ave.; and 255 W. River St., also chosen by the state and the object of neighborhood opposition.
A site at 318 New Haven Ave. — approved by the state as a facility — was issued compliance from the city four times to four different applicants.
A DCP spokeswoman said there are 10,026 patients in Connecticut approved to use medical marijuana.
The latest OK came as the PZB reviews its zoning regulations at the request of Mayor Benjamin G. Blake and the Milford Prevention Council.
The city’s medical marijuana regulations, established in recent years, are considered nonrestrictive, essentially allowing the facilities in any commercial zone.
That, combined with Milford’s location, easy to access and centrally located, has made it a desirable place to open shop, a city zoning official said he’s been told.
The second look at the regulations, now in progress, was sparked by a situation that arose when a dispensary was approved for a facility at 255 W. River St., a commercial zone adjacent to a residential neighborhood where there is a school, day care and church nearby.
After a swarm of neighborhood protest — including lawn signs, pleas to city leaders and a heavy presence at meetings, the PZB granted site plan approval to Arrow Alternative Care No. 2, which also owns a dispensary in Hartford that has received acclaim from the state.
Neighbors have said they are concerned the facility will increase traffic, crime and violence “related to robberies surrounding dispensaries,” as well as soften the “attitude toward medical marijuana, putting children at risk,” and bring an increased presence of “irresponsible individuals” to the neighborhood, near schools and around children.
Following the vote, resident Gail Haas, who lives four doors down from the planned facility, said neighbors “hope our worst fears don’t come true,” as the program grows “exponentially.”
Angelo DeFazio, owner of Arrow Alternative Care, said the night he sought site plan approval that there are many misconceptions about the program. Connecticut is the envy of the nation because it has such a strong “gatekeeping” system, he said.
DeFazio said in Connecticut, physicians certify a patient with a debilitating disease after knowing him or her well and after more traditional treatments have been tried.
He said medical marijuana is “very controlled,” with a health care professional onboard “every step of the way.”
DeFazio said he’ll employ six people: two pharmacists and four pharmacy technicians. DeFazio said there will be extensive security at the Milford facility, as required by the state.
Following the vote on the controversial West River Street site, a public hearing was begun on the proposal to make the regulations more restrictive.
Some of the proposed changes to local zoning laws include requiring a 1,000-foot separation between a facility and a residential neighborhood, a school and other buildings.
The changes also would remove from the regulations a permitted use in the Corridor Design Development District 4 — or on New Haven Avenue, where Southern CT Wellness and Healing LLC is located — and from several other districts where they currently are permitted.
PZB member John L. Grant noted the changes amount to having no site in Milford that could have a production or dispensary facility, and said Guilford banned the facilities all together.
Kevin Curseaden, attorney for the Milford Prevention Council in its attempt to change the rules, urged the PZB to take the proposed regulation changes to committee and take its time to consider everything. He said the current regulations are “minimalist” and “too vague.”
Another board member, Edward D. Mead, asked why there wasn’t all the concern when the board created the regulations in 2014. He said only a few spoke at that public hearing.
State Rep. Pam Staneski, R-119, who is for some changes, urged the board not to look at the proposed new regulations in a “reactive” way, but rather to “think to the future.”
When the PZB first considered medical marijuana facilities in 2013, it put a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and producers. The city’s zoning enforcement officer signed off on the Arrow Alternative Care facility Feb. 23, a day after the application was submitted, and later that day, department chief Joseph Griffith rescinded the approval, claiming the facility is subject to site approval like any other application. Arrow, although approved, is appealing that rescision.