BY ANDREAS YILMA
NAUGATUCK — The first cannabis retail store is coming to the borough after a nearly two-hour public hearing.
The Zoning Commission on March 8 approved a special permit application for Verano Holdings and its subsidiary, Caring Nature EJB2, to operate a cannabis hybrid retail store at 585 S. Main St. after the commission closed its hearing. The store is called Zen Leaf.
The special permit approval comes with a few conditions including that the landscaping have ornamental shrubs, the applicant provide documents for the indoor air filtration system for the storage area, no on-premises consumption of cannabis products be allowed and a $35,640 bond for sediment erosion controls, landscaping and a new sidewalk.
Attorney Gary O’Connor of Pullman & Comley, who represents the applicant, said Verano is one of the largest cannabis dispensary operators in the nation. The company has 121 dispensaries in 14 states, including two already in Connecticut — in Meriden and Waterbury.
The plan won’t change the footprint of the building but will provide a face-lift, which will include security cameras and positioned lighting. The ultimate development of the establishment would employ 40 to 50 full-time and part-time employees, O’Connor said.
O’Connor said traffic circulation at the location’s parking lot was poor.
“The parking spaces were reconfigured badly. We have a plan which redoes the circulation, provides wider space to travel between the parking spaces,” O’Connor said. “We believe that the traffic circulation at the property is greatly improved.”
The proposed development doesn’t call for any impact on wetlands or cutting down of trees. The establishment will be a low trash generator. Any cannadis opened or returned will be sent back to the producer or cultivator and will not be thrown out in the garbage, O’Connor said.
Verano Executive Vice President Anthony Marsico said security is a high priority for the business, which is regulated by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
The establishment will have a comprehensive surveillance and alarm system as well as a customer flow protocol to make sure there is a limited number of people on the sales floor and they could be easily managed by the store’s employees.
“Our surveillance system is state of the art. We maintain a comprehensive 24-hour, 7-day a week, camera surveillance system that covers both the interior and exterior of the property,” Marsico said. “Virtually every square inch of our dispensary is camera surveilled with the exception of the restrooms.”
The retail location will also have a generator on site, a silent alarm system, motion detectors, glass break sensors and panic buttons. The vault, where all the cannabis will be stored, will run on an independent HVAC system, which uses a carbon HEAP filtration system to alleviate any marijuana smell on the sales floor, Marsico said
The hybrid retail facility will serve both medical and recreational customers.
A medical customer will need to provide his or her medical card and a state- or federal-issued ID while adult use customers will need to provide a valid regular ID and proof of age, Marsico said.
Marsico said the business get regular audits of their procedures by the Department of Consumer Protection. DCP also will make surprise visits.
All of the cannabis products are stored in the vault room and the company maintains a required inventory management system that is lockstep with the state system, making it allowable to interface, Marsico said.
“We view this as a partnership. We understand that special uses are a privilege and not a right even though that we meet the standards,” Marsico said. “Prior to opening, we will review this with local PD (police) to see if they have any recommendations.”
Civil engineer Isiah Brown, of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, on behalf of the applicant, said the biggest change compared to the existing condition is the parking layout where many of the parking spaces are nonconforming.
The new plans will bring the parking spaces into conforming sizes and also improve the traffic circulation to accommodate for a two-way vehicle movement. Some landscaping will also be added such as trees and shrubs, Brown said.
The plan also calls to add a new sidewalk in front of the store, which will be reviewed by the state Department of Transportation since it’s on a state road. The guardrail will still be in place, even if it has to slightly move, Brown said.
The store won’t allow any consumption or loitering on the site and doesn’t have any plans to open a consumption lounge, Marscio said.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Ed Carter said the police and fire commissions reviewed and approved of the special permit application as well as the planning commission giving a positive referral.
Marsico said it will take about five months for construction after approval.
The commission’s approval comes after its creation in January of Section 44A Cannabis Regulations that specify no cannabis establishment shall be within 500 feet of the property line of any borough school, public playground or public park
The regulations also state the hours of operation for a cannabis retail establishment shall be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.