CANNABIS ISSUE IS HEADING FOR A REFERENDUM

John McKenna

Jun 23, 2022

A petition drive is underway in Litchfield to bring a cannabis-related question to a referendum on Election Day in November.

A petition drive is underway in Litchfield to bring a cannabis-related question to a referendum on Election Day in November.

The question was on the table for a town meeting Wednesday, but voters during the meeting at Litchfield Intermediate School voted to table the question until the next town meeting in August. That will give those behind the petition an opportunity to get the 600 signatures of registered voters needed to force a referendum. The 600 signatures represent 10 percent of the town’s electorate and must be presented to the the town clerk by Sept. 1.

More than 300 signatures have already been collected, according to Norman Sauer, who sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission and was seeking signatures following the town meeting.

The question voters were to entertain at the town meeting was as follows: “Shall the Litchfield Planning and Zoning Commission amend the zoning regulations to allow and regulate certain cannabis establishments by special permit pursuant to the “Cannabis Act” PA 21-1?”

Planning and zoning Chairman Carol Bramley, commenting during the town meeting, said the commission has drawn up a regulation prohibiting cannabis establishments and has the ability to write a regulation allowing cannabis establishments but before acting wants to know what the public thinks.

The commission has a moratorium in place until Dec. 31 prohibiting applications for cannabis establishments in town.

In another cannabis-related matter, the town meeting approved the Board of Selectmen’s proposed ordinance prohibiting the smoking or use of cannabis on municipally-owned or controlled property. The vote in favor of the proposal was 89-2.

State Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, a former first selectman, questioned how the proposed ordinance, if approved, would be enforced by state police, who now provide exclusive coverage of the town. First Selectman Denise Raap said she would direct the resident trooper and the second resident trooper expected to be on duty on July 1 to enforce the ordinance. Resident Burke Gibney, meanwhile, condemned the proposal, calling it discriminatory against people who use medical marijuana by prescription or use cannabis products that can be consumed without smoking, like soft drinks or gum.

“Cannabis now comes in many forms,” Gibney said.

There was much discussion during the nearly three-hour meeting about a proposed ordinance authorizing the Board of Selectmen to adopt a town parking policy. Under the proposal, 20 parking spaces in the municipal parking lot would be dedicated to overnight parking for guests of the boutique hotel the former Litchfield courthouse will be turned into. The plan for the building necessitated the proposed ordinance, according to Raap, who explained that the developer for the project, Lexington Partners of Hartford, needs to guarantee overnight guest parking in order to secure $10 million in financing for the project.

In addition to the 20 reserved parking spots, the policy under the proposed ordinance called for businesses and tenants of buildings in the center of town to be able to reserve parking places in the municipal lot for $50 a night or $100 a year, with the revenue going to the town. Selectman Jeffrey Zullo described the policy as fair to all parties.

The number of spaces a business could buy would be based on the size of their building. The formula would be one parking space for every 500 square feet of space. Raap, for example, could reserve six spaces based on the 3,000 square-foot building she owns.

Several residents, however, spoke against the proposed policy.

“It’s overkill and an unnecessary creation of cost,” Steve Ardussi said. “Just put reserved (parking) signs up (for the hotel). To create a policy with fees doesn’t make sense.”

Gibney, citing the substantial expense the town incurred to rebuild and expand the municipal lot two decades ago, said the parking policy as designed had the potential to give away most of the parking lot’s 88 spaces.

“There would quickly be no spots left for residents,” Gibney said. “The town spent millions on that lot so it could remain free and open to the public.”

Bramley, speaking as a member of the Greater Litchfield Preservation Trust, which is selling the old courthouse to Lexington Partners, said a parking policy is necessary to pave the way for a successful conversion of the building, which she said is in dire need of rehabilitation.

“The municipal parking lot is a disaster and needs to be cleaned up,” Bramley said. “It’s foolhardy to make this an issue. There is a need to accommodate the needs of this hotel.”

The GLPT has the right to 17 parking spaces in the lot and Miner asked if they could be designated for the hotel. The spaces, however, aren’t located behind the old courthouse and to designate them for the area behind the building would require a complex and lengthy legal process, Zullo noted. The town, Town Attorney Michael Rybak added, can’t just designate 20 spaces for the courthouse without having a parking policy in place.

After further discussion, Zullo offered a motion proposing a compromise that limits the number of parking spaces that could be reserved to 35. That number includes the 20 for the hotel. And, the motion stated, reserved parking would be limited to overnight parking, or parking between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. The proposed amendment to the ordinance was approved 79-25.

The town meeting also saw voters approve the allocation of $72,448 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Economic Development Commission gets $30,000 to enhance its promotion of the town as a good place to do business and visit, the CHORE Service gets $10,000 to assist senior citizens and the disabled with household chores, the East Litchfield Volunteer Fire Company gets $27,448 for a new generator, and the Litchfield Arts Council gets $5,000 to promote the arts in town.

Voters also approved a new lease between the town and Plumb Hill Playing Fields Inc. that will save the town money in 2022-23 by having the Region 6 towns of Warren, Morris and Goshen pay half of the $70,000 cost to maintain the facility. Region 6 is now involved because Wamogo Regional High School uses the Plumb Hill track.

Voters too granted approval to spend a state grant of $399,000 on the construction of three parking areas along Whites Woods Road that will offer 72 parking spaces for hikers, walkers and those using the Litchfield Community Greenway and approved an agreement with Harwinton to share an animal control facility and animal control officer. The agreement will cost Litchfield $16,000 a year for five years instead of the $63,000 a year it was paying Torrington for animal control services, according to Raap.

Voters also approved a deal with USA Hauling and Recycling for municipal solid waste disposal and recycling. The agreement goes into effect July 1 and will save the town $50,000 a a year in tipping fees, Raap said.