3 new cannabis dispensaries gain approval in Hartford area

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A former Outback Steakhouse in Enfield is among three cannabis locations that received Planning and Zoning approval in the last month in the Hartford area.

A former Outback Steakhouse in Enfield is among three cannabis locations that received Planning and Zoning approval in the last month in the Hartford area.

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A former Outback Steakhouse, Bank of America and children's indoor gym have been approved in the past month to open as cannabis retail facilities in the Hartford area.

Planning and Zoning commissions in Enfield, Canton and Vernon have given developers the green light to move ahead with hybrid cannabis dispensaries, serving recreational-use customers and medical patients. The Canton location is a social-equity applicant.

Pending building permits, these three dispensaries will join existing recreational-use facilities in the area that include Fine Fettle in Newington and Manchester and Curaleaf in Hartford.

Of the existing dispensaries in Hartford County, the Manchester Fine Fettle is the only social equity venture. 

From steaks to smokes in Enfield

The old Outback Steakhouse restaurant on Elm Street in Enfield is set to become a hybrid cannabis dispensary following a unanimous Planning and Zoning approval on March 9. 

The dispensary will be run by Verano, a cannabis company with 124 locations in 14 states. Verano already has Connecticut medical locations in Waterbury and Meriden. Verano is the parent company of Zen Leaf, which will operate the Enfield dispensary.

The Outback Steakhouse has been closed for a few years, according to Anthony Marisco, executive vice president at Verano.

"It’s a tired-looking building,” Marisico said at the March 9 meeting. “We look to make a significant investment into beautifying that property. Interior and exterior improvements. We really look at having a positive impact on the community and a positive impact on surrounding businesses.”

Before approving the application, the Planning and Zoning commission had to approve a modification to the separation requirements between the proposed business and a day care and children's gym. Despite the proximity to the dispensary, the commission approved the modification unanimously.

"Within the separation distances are a day care center across the street down the street behind the Burger King,” said Richard Roberts, an attorney at Halloran Sage Law firm in Hartford. "It’s across a four-lane highway behind other businesses. The likelihood of mingling of customers and clients is virtually nil. It’s not a neighborhood where people are going to be pushing the kids to the day care down the street in a stroller.”

The location will not produce cannabis, but one of the concerns among commissioners was odor.

“Odor control is not going to be an issue because nothing will be growing there and they will have all kinds of air filtration equipment to avoid any undesirable odors leaving the building,” Roberts said.

Marisco said all of the products will be packaged once they arrive at the store.

The dispensary will bring an estimated 30 to 40 jobs, both full- and part-time. A traffic study showed the location would generate significantly more traffic during rush periods than the Outback Steakhouse.

Kermit Hua, traffic engineer with KWH Enterprises, reported a net increase of 65 trips on a weekday morning, 61 for a weekday afternoon and 110 trips for a Saturday midday.

Canton dispensary faces resistance 

Canton's Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special permit from Slap Ash LLC to open a hybrid cannabis retail location on Albany Turnpike, despite concerns from some residents. 

The site is the former location of a Bank of America. Applicants Ashley Vaughn and Amanda Ostrowitz obtained cannabis retailer licenses from the state Department of Consumer Protections through the state's Social Equity Lottery. 

The applicants, who formed Slap Ash LLC, appealed to the commission by explaining the fast-growing nature of the cannabis industry. In their application, Vaughn and Ostrowitz stated that people 55 and older represent a growing segment of cannabis users. This age group is predicted to make up 43 percent of Canton's population by 2030, data shows.

Commissioners acknowledged at the March 1 meeting that traffic impacts from the new business would be "relatively benign," but residents, particularly those living nearby, mobilized to oppose the plan. 

At a Jan. 18 Planning and Zoning meeting, a group of neighbors from the Canton Valley Circle neighborhood gave a presentation about their opposition to the dispensary.

"The ONLY access to this building is from the residential road of Canton Valley Circle, which is a left turn on an already heavily congested Route 44 eastbound and a right turn from 44 when headed west," the group stated in the presentation.

Other residents emailed their disapproval and concerns about how the dispensary would affect school bus routes.

"This will destroy our town," Canton residents Dawn and Preston Ryzak wrote. "We pay taxes to live in a safe environment, but to say this won’t bring crime is imprudent. Just because it’s legalized, doesn’t give it merit for any location in Canton, especially in a residential area."

The measure passed unanimously. Documents show Vaughn and Ostrowitz were able to alleviate concerns about bus routes and traffic given the dispensary opens at 10 a.m.

Vernon dispensary faced pushback from neighbors

Leaf Street Dispensary is coming to Vernon's Route 83 after receiving Planning and Zoning approval on Feb. 16. Like the dispensaries in Canton and Enfield, it will serve medical and recreational-use patients.

The dispensary will be located in the former Jumpin' Jonnies, a giant indoor playspace. 

Benjamin Tinsley, the applicant, owns Prime Wellness of Connecticut LLC. He spoke at the Feb. 16 meeting about the site plans, and several residents spoke in opposition, particularly with concerns about how the dispensary will affect their property values. 

A traffic study found that the new dispensary would not impact residents of nearby Courtside Condominiums as much as some may have feared.

"It is likely that the actual delays experienced by motorists exiting the Courtside Condominiums driveway will be less than those reported," the report reads.

The dispensary will be open between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Prime Wellness Connecticut already runs a medical dispensary in South Windsor on John Fitch Boulevard.