The Day – Norwich seeks to overhaul zoning regulations to accommodate cannabis operations
Norwich – It wasn’t enough for Norwich officials to openly welcome Connecticut’s new cannabis industry by holding public forums and announcing that a “welcome” sign was on the door.
While the mayor’s office, Norwich Community Development Corp. and planning and zoning staff kept answering phone calls, the repeated question from cannabis manufacturing and retail developers was: where does this say in your ordinances and zoning regulations?
The state’s new law governing the manufacture and sale of recreational cannabis products includes what NCDC Chairman Kevin Brown has called the “as if condition.” If a municipality didn’t specifically ban cannabis — many municipalities have at least temporary moratoriums banning it — and change their regulations, the industry would be allowed in areas that allow similar operations.
City leaders quickly learned that developers looking to make multimillion-dollar investments in a potential location found this wording too vague.
“What I recognized in talking to the various growers and retailers interested in doing business here,” Brown said, “is that they really needed an affirmative statement that wasn’t based on a ‘condition like if”, zoned as if it were anything. other manufacturer, any other retailer.
To make this affirmative statement, City Council will consider a proposed ordinance on Monday, April 4, which would add definitions of “herbal manufacturing” to the list of terms defining the types of manufacturers allowed in the city.
“Commercial cultivation, micro-cultivation, manufacture and production of herbal products, as well as food or beverages, may be licensed as manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, food manufacturing, precision and research and development,” the proposed order reads.
The council, which serves as Norwich’s zoning board, will hold a public hearing on the draft ordinance at 6.30pm in the council chambers of City Hall, 100 Broadway. The board could vote on the proposed ordinance at its regular meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. that evening.
In addition, City Council, at its March 21 meeting, unanimously approved a resolution regarding potential cannabis retail establishments. The resolution clarifies council’s intent to allow cannabis retail stores and provides for future action to codify the language into a zoning ordinance, said Mayor Peter Nystrom, co-sponsor of the resolution.
“It gives notice to people by authorizing that we are okay with this,” Nystrom said, referring to the city council as the zoning board. “They didn’t want to give out permits and have us say, ‘you didn’t ask us.'”
The resolution identifies the retail sale of cannabis as similar to stores that sell alcohol, including package stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. Zoning regulations require a distance of at least 1,500 feet from other such stores, but the state’s new cannabis law would currently allow Norwich to have only one retail store of cannabis.
The law mandates a 1,000 foot separation from any elementary, middle or high school and public libraries. The library’s distancing requirement eliminates much of the city center, from the Otis Library at 261 Main Street to an area beyond the Norwich Upper Courthouse, Nystrom said.
On the manufacturing side, the state law would allow developers who locate in areas identified as those disproportionately affected by past drug laws to bypass the state’s lottery system for cannabis licenses. .
Six of Norwich’s nine census tracts are in the so-called disproportionately affected areas, but Brown said unfortunately Norwich Business Park is outside these areas. Finding the desired 30,000 to 100,000 square feet of space on lots of at least 3 acres in the six eligible census tracts is limited, Brown said.
He could not discuss specific sites, but said he was confident Norwich would manage to land at least one cannabis manufacturing facility and retail store. The manufacturing plant would become a major utility user, consuming perhaps two to three megawatts of electricity, bringing revenue to both Norwich’s utilities and the city.
Timelines are less certain, but Brown estimated that the state licensing process will be completed this summer and “the cannabis industry will start to come to life” in Norwich in early 2023.