Marijuana store proposed for Torrington's East Main Street

TORRINGTON —  A retail marijuana store has been proposed for property off East Main Street, one of Torrington's busiest thoroughfares.

The new store would be called The Collective, according to the application. 

Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission met with the applicant, Patrik Jonsson, and his engineering team this week during a public hearing on the plans. Jonsson is also seeking a zone change for the half-acre property currently home to a garage and is used for Northwest Transit District buses during the week. 

Still River Wellness, a medical marijuana facility on Winsted Road, received approval in October to convert half its building into a retail store.

The East Main Street property is zoned L-B, for local businesses. Jonsson wants to change the property's zone to be part of the city's overlay district, which gives businesses more flexibility with different types of proposals, including an adult-use cannabis retail store. 

Torrington's City Council earlier this year voted to allow businesses to apply for permits to set up shop in the city, and anticipates receiving 3 percent of each store's revenue. 

The building at 957 E. Main St. was built in 1864, Jonsson said. The property itself has three parcels, one of which is adjacent to a residence at 92 Yorkshire Drive, a small residential street to the east of the property. The applicant is getting a property easement from the property's owner, which would allow residents there have their own parking spaces. 

Galen Semprebon, a licensed practical engineer with East West Engineering in West Hartford, presented the site plan. The store, he said, would likely serve about 250 customers a day. There will be 23 parking spaces and one handicap parking space, as well as additional spaces near the house on Yorkshire. The one-story building will remain and will be modified from the inside. The entire lot is paved, Semprebon said, and Jonsson plans to add landscaping with new trees and shrubs, "to dress up the site and make it more presentable," Semprebon said. 

"The property is now paved right up to the edge of the road on both Yorkshire and East Main, and we are looking to create a regular driveway with landscaping ... and a shrubbery border between the lot and the house behind it (on Yorkshire)," he said. "

The Collective will be open from 9 a.m .to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The traffic expected from the property, Semprebon said, is based based on past experience, similar facilities and similar locations.

Traffic coming to and from the new business quickly became a discussion during Semprebon's presentation. Commissioners said they were worried about the impact the increased traffic would have on Yorkshire, which is a residential street. Customers will enter the property from East Main Street, and can leave the site via Yorkshire; a left turn will bring drivers to a traffic light to get back onto East Main Street.

If they exit directly onto East Main Street, they will be able to turn right, entering the flow of traffic. If they want to turn left, drivers will have to wait for a break in oncoming cars heading east. 

Those scenarios, along with the property bordering the residential neighborhood, raised questions from Chairman Greg Mone and members Starley Arias and Donovan Riley. 

"Left-hand turns are going to be difficult onto East Main Street, with speeds up to 50 mph on that road," Riley said. 

"I really have a problem with traffic on that residential street," Mone said. 

Arias wondered about the applicant's traffic estimates. "That's a really busy road already," he said. "And we're not just talking about people from Torrington (coming to the store), but people from other areas. ... Traffic is sometimes horrendous there, and that's why (retail cannabis stores) are in open areas. East Main is tough as it is."

Police Sgt. Dustin Baldis, who is the city's traffic officer, told City Planner Jeremy Leifert that drivers should be encouraged to leave the property from Yorkshire. In his memo to the commission, Leifert recommended approval of the zone change and site plan.

"They're essentially improving and using an existing (property). I thought it was good to get an easement for (the area near the residence)," he said. In his memo, he recommended that the site plan be approved with conditions regarding traffic, drainage, and that the applicant address list of requirements and concerns from the city's building official, city engineer and public works director.

"It's compatible with the area," he said, adding that Economic Development Director Rista Malanca also supported the application and zone change. 

Resident Kimberly Grustas spoke against the application during the hearing, saying it would cause "a traffic nightmare." With documentation she provided, Grustas noted that most recreational marijuana stores had an average of 40 to 90 parking spaces. 

Leifert said, however, that the application provided more than the minimum requirement for parking spaces, which was nine, not 23. 

Grustas said she was also worried about security. "Dispensaries are a cash business, and a clear target for criminals," she said. "These people don't care about Torrington. ... They should have taken more time and found a place that's better suited."

The commission closed the hearing and is expected to vote on The Collective's application and zone change at its next meeting Dec. 21.