P&Z approves site plan for medical marijuana facility

Before an array of television cameras from all the Connecticut newscasts, the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) voted 7-2 at its April 5 meeting to approve a site plan review to permit a medical marijuana dispensary in an office building at 255 West River St.

Meanwhile, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is conducting a meeting on April 12 at 7 p.m. at City Hall to consider the applicant’s appeal of a Feb. 23, 2016 decision by Joseph D. Griffith, the director of Permitting and Land Use.

Griffith revoked a Feb. 23 zoning permit issued earlier that day by Stephen Harris, zoning enforcement officer, in which Harris indicated that 255 West River Street conforms to the regulations and could be used as a medical marijuana dispensary. Griffith told attorney Danielle M. Bercury, who presented the application on behalf of owner 255 West River LLC, that the plans would have to go before the P&Z for approval.

Bercury disagreed with that decision, saying the regulations do not say a site plan review is needed. However, she filed the site plan review due to proposed zoning regulation changes that would prohibit a dispensary at that site. She further said that the P&Z could act before the ZBA reviewed the appeal.

Jeffrey Gordon, landscape architect, site planner, and president of Codespoti & Associates, said the original site plan was approved in 1978 for a doctor’s office, and said the only changes would be to restripe the parking lot to conform with current Americans With Disabilities (ADA) act regulations for handicapped parking, and to make the building ADA compliant for access.

“It was unusual to ask for an approval of an already approved site plan. As a measure to demonstrate transparency, we sought the affirmation of the already existing approval,” said Gordon, following the meeting. “The board spent a great deal of time developing their medical marijuana regulations, held public hearings, invited public comment and determined suitable locations for its application. The property was acquired after it was assured it was a permitted use for that location.”

The LLC registered with the Secretary of State on Nov. 17, 2015, and lists Angelo DeFazio of Canton as manager and member. Bercury said that DeFazio is a principal with 255 West River Properties of Cambridge, Mass., which owns the 4,000 sq. ft. office building located on a one-acre parcel, which it purchased on Jan. 6, 2015 for $505,000, and lists Liping Wang of Milford as the agent.

Bercury said Arrow Alternative Care holds a state license to dispense medical marijuana, and that DeFazio is a pharmacist. She said that the application would restore the existing site plan to allow for a marijuana dispensary. DeFazio said he looked to Milford because it had adopted regulations to allow these facilities.

DeFazio said, “There is a lot of misinformation” regarding medical marijuana dispensaries. He said that physicians do not prescribe medical marijuana, but rather certify that a patient has one of 17 diseases approved by the state to use medical marijuana. The patient then registers with the state to receive a medical marijuana card. The patient is only permitted to register with one such facility, said DeFazio.

With 4,600 patients registered in Fairfield and New Haven Counties, and with the two nearest dispensaries in Bethel and Branford, “that’s not very good for access to care,” said DeFazio, commenting that many patients are not ambulatory.

DeFazio said the pharmacist decides which type of marijuana and which dosage is best for a particular patient.

“Ours is a very controlled process with health care professionals involved every step of the way,” said DeFazio.

DeFazio said his plan called for four pharmacy technicians and two pharmacists to work there. He said that security measures are stronger than any required of a pharmacy that sells narcotics.

Gregory Grew, project architect, who said he is also director of inspections and permits for the town of East Hartford, said under the building code, this plan is not a change of use or occupancy.

“This is nothing like a retail use at all,” said Grew, saying a retail use would be defined as having a large quantity of goods readily available to the public. By comparison, in the dispensary, he said customers are guided through the building and there are no shelves with product for them to access.

Commenting on the application, City Planner David B. Sulkis said that if someone had a change of use for a building, and that change of use was permitted in the zone, and the parking requirements were the same, then the application would not come before the P&Z.

“If it had a different parking ratio, or an addition, you would see it,” said Sulkis.

Prior to voting for the site plan, board member Scott Marlow said, “Whether I agree with what is going into that space, the board has to look at the issues at hand. If the board has issues with the site plan, the board has to address the issues.”

Board member Jim Quish had introduced a motion to table any P&Z decision until after the ZBA meeting on April 12. Only board member Richard Lutz supported that motion, so it failed. They in turn were the two board members to vote against the motion to approve the site plan.

Since those regulations were adopted, the state has approved two dispensaries for Milford, one Southern Connecticut Wellness and Healing, 318 New Haven Ave., in a CDD-4 zone near Buckingham Avenue, bordering the Metro North railroad tracks, and Arrow Alternative Care, 255 River St. in a CDD-1 zone just north of Rt. 1.

Jonathan Harris, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), this week rejected Mayor Ben Blake’s request to reconsider the license for the facility at 255 River Street, saying Milford’s zoning regulations allowed the use at this location. Blake expressed concern that the location is near Cornerstone Christian Church, Kumon Math and Reading Center, and on the same street as Mathewson Elementary School, which is one-half mile north of the proposed dispensary.