BETHEL — Hurgin Municipal Center was filled to capacity Tuesday night for the final Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on a medical marijuana dispensary proposed for the Stony Hill neighborhood.
Public discussion continued from the June 17 meeting — which lasted over three hours — and an overwhelming number of Bethel residents listed reasons for overturning the April approval of the dispensary.
Bethel Selectman Paul Szatkowski, a former vice president of a major medical company, brought a motion to vote on the matter about two-and-a-half hours into the hearing.
“This should be sent back to the community. Let the people decide,” said Szatkowski. “My suggestion is, go send it to town officials. Let’s have a town meeting and a referendum.”
Many residents addressed congestion along Route 6 and said it would only worsen, with the possibility of drivers under the influence, if the dispensary were to open. Others voiced concerns about the impact the facility could have on the youth community.
“It’s too close to a residential neighborhood and too close to a children’s bus stop,” said Mary Lou Strano. “This is not the right location.”
“This is much too close to my family and has me concerned, especially for my children,” added John Robertson, who lives down the street from the proposed site. “My concern is the cliental it will bring to our neighborhood.”
Kirk Boyce, a Birch Drive resident who works as a medical consultant focusing on pain management, aligned himself on both sides of the argument.
“From my experience in that area, I neither disagree with nor dispute the use of medical marijuana. In fact, I fully support it,” said Boyce. “My objection to this issue is the location. I am concerned about flow of traffic, and I am concerned about property values for my home.”
The proposed site at 4 Garella Road was acquired by Trumbull-based D&B Wellness Inc., after the Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut received approval from town Zoning Officer Peter Palmer in April.
Bethel residents Michael Moore and Philip Lombino filed an appeal against the dispensary a little over a week after the permit was issued, claiming that it did not meet the requirements of a retail use, for which the property is zoned.
D&B co-owner Angela D’Amico said she hopes that the dispensary, the sixth of its kind licensed by the state Department of Consumer Protection, will be open for business by the start of September.
“To hear (terminally ill) patients say, `Well, we won’t be around then’ is heartbreaking,” said D’Amico.
D&B was denied approval in Stratford, Bridgeport and Redding. A location in Bethel would make it the first medical marijuana dispensary in Fairfield County and the first one west of the Connecticut River, which several residents argued could draw unwanted crowds from out of town.
“We understand their concerns and the stigma with medical marijuana that’s been done in this country,” said D’Amico. “We want to set their minds at ease.”
Those supporting the dispensary cited the benefits of the drug for people suffering from chronic medical conditions and disputed the type of customer it would draw.
Thomas Burke, a former Marine and medical marijuana user who grew up in Bethel, argued that doctors conduct a comprehensive screening before writing a prescription.
“These people had to fight very hard to get a prescription in the first place,” said Burke, 25. “To jeopardize that is an insult to the process they had to go through.”
“Unless there’s a technical reason for this application to be denied, the compassion of this board (should compel approval of ) the application,” said Bob Crnic. “You are discriminating access of residents to a drug that will benefit them.”
D’Amico, who co-owns D&B with Karen Barski, brought in representatives from Florida-based BioTrackTHC and another from a Rhode Island medicinal marijuana dispensary to address questions from the public.
“We’re hopeful, with optimistic eyes,” said D’Amico. “God brought us to it and he will bring us through it.”
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