MERIDEN — The city’s Planning Commission this week approved provisional special permits for one retail adult-use cannabis dispensary downtown and one hybrid medical and recreational dispensary on the city’s east side.
The approval of a provisional special permit for Willow Brook Wellness medical dispensary at 1371 E. Main Street was granted the same day Verano, a large cannabis cultivator and retailer, announced it had purchased the dispensary and its parent company, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions in Rocky Hill.
According to CT Pharma’s current president Rino Ferrarese, who attended Wednesday’s public hearing, the provisional permit passes to the buyer.
The Planning Commission also voted 4 to 0 to grant Biagio Gulino, of Blue Leaf LLC, a special permit to operate a cannabis dispensary at 28 W. Main St. contingent upon state licensure. The application was filed prior to the city’s establishment of rules regulating cannabis dispensaries on Sept. 14. The approval is valid up to one year, but can be extended after six months by showing proof of a pending state license application.
Gulino is the son of Ross Gulino, the building owner and a member of the Planning Commission. Ross Gulino recused himself from all discussions and votes on all dispensary applications.
The 28 W. Main St. application had received some concerns from members of the public regarding the number of entrances and exits, concerns related to Ross Gulino’s role on the Planning Commission, and over the location of a Board of Education program for disabled adults within 500 feet of the proposed dispensary. A letter from the school board to the commission stated its opposition to the dispensary.
Biagio Gulino’s attorney Dennis Ceneviva addressed those concerns one at a time. First, he stated that should Biagio Gulino be granted a state license, he would address any egress concerns with the building department. As far as the timing of the application, submitted just prior to the city’s moratorium, Ceneviva told commissioners that neither Gulino had any inside information that was not readily available to the public, and no ethics complaint had been filed.
Ceneviva reminded the panel and members of the public that because of the timing, the application fell under different requirements than those passed in September and should be treated the same as other retail uses. But Ceneviva argued that, had it come under the city’s regulations prohibiting dispensaries within 500 feet of a K-12 public school, it would meet that requirement as well. Cenevia shared a Board of Education list with the addresses of K-12 public schools which did not include the adult program operating at 14-16 West Main St.
“We are not within 500 feet of any K-12 program. There is no documentation on why the Board of Education proposed that this change is a bad idea,” Ceneviva said of the board’s letter. “This was not language with specific concerns. It just provides a conclusion and no basis of that conclusion. We do comply with all site plan and special exception objectives.””
In response to a public comment about pot smoke wafting near the site, Ceneviva reminded commission members that consumption on the property was prohibited and “just because there are package stores doesn’t mean you see people drinking up and down the street.”
Commission members Victoria Church, Chairman Kevin Curry, Elain Cariati and alternate Tristan Shields voted to approve the provisional permit under conditions that parking in nearby municipal lots be validated and marketing materials include directions on where consumers may find validated parking. It also stipulated that no advertising or product displays be on signs or window displays on site, and that no consumption is allowed on the premises.
“We haven’t had anything work downtown so why not try something different?” Curry said before voting. “It’s a great opportunity for downtown.”‘Fingers crossed’
A third application filed by Salvatore R. Carabetta, doing business as Red Cardinal LLC, was tabled to allow partners to address traffic concerns raised by city Planning Department staff.
Hours prior to Wednesday’s public hearing Verano Holdings Corp. announced it had entered into multiple agreements to acquire all of the issued and outstanding equity interests of Caring Nature LLC in Waterbury and Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, Inc., along with its acquisition of Willow Brook Wellness, LLC.
Verano has cannabis retail and growing operations in 12 states.
“We are excited about the continued expansion of both our national platform and our East Coast hub. Entering the Connecticut market ahead of its adult-use transition provides a clear runway for sustainable, long-term growth,” stated George Archos, Verano founder and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.
“These acquisitions are well-aligned with our broader growth strategy, and further strengthen our operational bandwidth by bringing management teams on board that have demonstrated multi-disciplinary savvy and a keen understanding of the Connecticut market in both the retail and wholesale channels,” he said.
Conditions of the provisional permit at Willow Brook Wellness include owner responsibility for traffic control during the first 30 days of opening if the city requires it, and no consumption on the premises.
“This is a location the public is very comfortable with,” said Shields, the Planning Commission alternate.
Biagio Gulino said he was satisfied with the provisional approval downtown and adding, “fingers crossed, because we still have a ways to go.”