Shop opening could turn on city or state zoning control
HARTFORD — The future for Hartford’s first recreational marijuana shop has turned more uncertain, as the Capital Region Development Authority asserted it has control over zoning in the Front Street neighborhood, and not the city.
The city’s planning and zoning commission’s public hearing Tuesday on the proposal for an adult-use shop at 89 Arch St., across from the convention center, was continued to June 28 to sort out who has zoning purview.
CRDA strongly opposes the opening of an adult-use cannabis shop at 89 Arch St., across from the convention center, arguing it is not consistent with the family-focused entertainment throughout Front Street and the broader Adriaen’s Landing district that it oversees.
The plans for the cannabis shop have been endorsed by the city’s department of development services. The plans meet zoning requirements, would boost tourism and foot traffic, and encourage entrepreneurial, innovative businesses, the department says.
If the partners in the shop do win zoning approval, they still must secure a license from the state.
In a letter to the commission, Hartford City Council President Maly D. Rosado also urged caution, asking the commission to withhold any vote “until city leaders can develop a more robust plan on the sale of legal cannabis within Hartford.”
At Tuesday’s virtual hearing, the city’s director of planning, Aimee Chambers acknowledged CRDA’S
control over its properties in the area. But Chambers contended that it did not pertain to 89 Arch — the former Blind Pig Pizza Co. — or the neighboring Arch Street Tavern.
“This particular property and the property next door are privately-owned properties, so I think it’s an important distinction to make as we talk about the district,” Chambers said.
Chambers said a search of land records also showed no restrictions on the property.
But Anthony Lazzaro, CRDA’S general counsel, pushed back on that argument during the hearing. Lazzaro noted for instance that the state’s alcohol permit for the Arch Street Tavern was signed on the planning and zoning line by CRDA.
“Much like when the Blind Pig wanted to put the awning on the front, it didn’t go to the city of Hartford for zoning approval, they went to CRDA, and we approved the awning going on the front,” Lazzaro said. “And when they wanted economic assistance, we provided that patio to them, again, because it was certainly within the Adriaen’s Landing site.”
“We believe we have the jurisdiction on the zoning here,” Lazzaro said.
More than two decades ago, Adriaen’s Landing was created by the state lawmakers. That led to the development of the convention center, the Connecticut Science Center and Front Street, which includes restaurants, entertainment venues, apartments and a Uconn regional campus.
CRDA and its predecessor, both quasi-public agencies, were given control to shape the development. CRDA says long-standing agreements prohibit such uses as check-cashing, pawn shops, firearms sellers, the sale of pornographic items, head shops — and cannabis sales.
At Tuesday’s hearing, two partners in the venture — Derrick C. Gibbs Jr. and Carl Terilla Jr. — said the shop would be high-end, meeting all the requirements for a state license.
This would include security inside and outside the store, the checking of IDS to make sure patrons were 21 or older and that no items would be visible from the street. There would be no advertising in windows or neon, flashing cannabis leaf signs.
Gibbs said he expected the typical customer would spend between $100 and $150 a visit. He said sales would mostly be pre-orders and by appointment. All products would be pre-packaged with no odors and there would be no consumption on the premises, which is prohibited by state regulations.
“There were questions about whether this was going to be a quote-unquote a hole in the wall shop,” Gibbs said. “I can assure that is not going to be the case.”
Gibbs said his Middletown-based company, Change Inc., which provides homecare and behavioral health services, has gross annual sales of $10-15 million. The company is not part of the partnership for the cannabis shop.
“I don’t run establishments that are holes in the walls,” Gibbs said. “In fact, we have investors that have committed $1.2 million into this project.”
The hearing was continued before much of the public got a chance to weigh in, but letters, mostly in opposition, were submitted by Chambers.
One Front Street restaurant, El Pollo Guapo, expressed support for the cannabis shop.
“As an emerging industry in Connecticut, initial participants in the cannabis industry have the unprecedented opportunity to set the standard for corporate responsibility and customer care and safe and compliant operations,” Roy Reidl, the restaurant’s co-owner, wrote.
Reidl wrote he was confident that the operators — with experience in cultivation and retail dispensary in the state’s medical marijuana business — would be a strong addition to Front Street.