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Zoners Hesitantly Allow Dispensary in Commercial Zone, Nix Winery Plans

Zoners Hesitantly Allow Dispensary in Commercial Zone, Nix Winery Plans

The Orange Plan and Zoning Commission, at its September 20 meeting, did away with a moratorium it had adopted about a year ago on allowing cannabis establishments in town, thereby allowing an applicant to submit a site plan.  At the same meeting the commissioners, after lengthy discussion, denied an application by Stappa Vinyard owners to increase outdoor seating capacity.

The petition to amend the zoning regulations in favor of allowing a marijuana dispensary was brought forward by Southern CT Wellness and Healing LLC (SCWH), which is currently a medical marijuana facility operating on New Haven Avenue in Milford.  Attorney Marjorie F. Shansky represented the applicant.

She said her client is interested in moving her business to the former TD Bank building at 175 Boston Post Road, a building that has been vacant for a couple of years.  She assured the commission that the proposed use was in line with what is allowed in that zone under the town’s regulations, as well as being in line with the Plan of Conservation and Development.

Although currently purely a medical marijuana dispensary – which provides marijuana only to medical patients with tightly regulated conditions – SCWH would apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana as well, she said.  They plan to use the drive-up window, but also have a retail space.

Commission Chairman Oscar Parente agreed to the wording, though hesitantly.  “It’s a good commercial use,” he said during deliberation.  He admitted that initially he had not been in favor of the proposal, but changed his mind as he learned more about it.  “It has all the security controls we were looking for,” he said.  In the end, tongue in cheek, he found himself “52% in favor” of it.

The vote, 3-1, with one abstention, reflected the hesitancy of the commission.  There was no public input during the hearing.

Commissioner Kevin Cornell said the state gave the towns discretion as to whether they wanted to participate and allow cannabis sales or not.  “I don’t feel the compelling need to make it any easier to get to recreational use in our town,” he said, adding people are going some distance now, and they will continue to do so.

Commissioner Paul Kaplan did not agree. He called it “just another commercial use,” and pointed out that the cannabis retail industry “hasn’t rolled out as quickly as expected.”

Town Attorney Vincent Marino called it “a great opportunity for the Town of Orange” in terms of tax revenue.  Although it isn’t part of the zoner’s purview, this could be a successful new business, which can generate almost a million dollars in tax revenue.  He clarified that the tax revenue, according to state law, can only be spent on drug education and similar purposes.  It would allow the town to pay for the DARE class and other youth programs.  Attorney Shansky added that the income can also be used for streetscape improvements where the business is located.

She assured the commission that with the site and distance requirements in place – like liquor stores, a cannabis retail establishment cannot be located within a certain distance of schools or churches – there will not be a proliferation of cannabis establishments in town.

What the zoners approved so far is the regulation to allow this use in the C1 commercial district, by special use permit.  The applicant will now have to submit a formal application and site plan for its specific location.

Even if a cannabis retail store may be available in the near future for Orange shoppers, bear in mind that the town does not allow smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis on public properties.

Stappa Vineyard:  After lengthy deliberation, the Orange Plan and Zoning Commission denied the application put forth by the owners of Stappa Vineyard on Route 34 to increase outdoor dining opportunities, adding some 30 parking spaces, widening the driveway and adding some outdoor lighting.

The vineyard opened about two years ago as a farmstand/winery.  It restored the agricultural use to the 10-acre property, with a building for wine tasting and office space.  It offers charcuterie boxes with meats and cheese, but no prepared food.

Commissioner Judy Smith said the winery came in as a farm stand/winery, with very limited commercial use.  “We were very cognizant of where it was – it’s due to their success that they probably need to expand.”

Attorney Joe Porto, who represented the applicant, added that the state has since passed legislation that “recognizes that the public wants outdoor dining space.”

Chairman Parente argued against it.  “This is not really outdoor dining space – it is not a restaurant.”  He brought up the special standards for farm stands/winery that specifically spell out that special events have to take place entirely in the tasting room.  Even for restaurants, any outdoor seating “shall not exceed 10% of indoor seating,” he said.  That would allow the vineyard no more than 10 outdoor seats.

Attorney Porto brought up that the winery has been a good neighbor.  “The property will be kept clean from litter, there is a fence around the property,” he said.  The plans call for additional vegetative buffers to where the neighboring properties are.  No food or drink preparation is taking place on the outside, and there is ample parking.  “We’re suggesting a total of 21 tables, removed far from neighboring property.”  He added that the 10% regulation leads to a bit of an absurd result given that it’s on a 10-acre property, not a bar in a strip mall.

“It’s not absurd, because it’s in a residential zone,” Parente shot back.

Commissioner Tom Torrenti also was skeptical.  “This could become a run-away freight train in my mind,” he said.

Porto pointed out that the commission had received 14 letters in support of the proposal.  However, it also received a letter signed by some 30 neighbors of the vineyard, whose properties either abut or are close to the winery, and the neighbors asked the commission to deny the application.

Attorney Owen Weaver was one of the co-signers of that letter and addressed the commission.  He said his property abuts the vineyard, which is indeed a beautiful space.  “Let’s call it what it is,” he said.  “An outdoor wine bar.”  He said people are walking right up to his property line, and on weekends in particular it can get loud.  “From March to November it’s a party in my backyard,” he said.

Weaver said he has three kids under the age of 5 and people on the other side of the fence are sometimes using inappropriate language.  “I am not opposed to the vineyard,” he said.  But, “I am very concerned with the intensification.”

By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent

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