P&Z Sees Consensus on Temporary Move to Prohibit All Cannabis Business in Wilton

At Monday night’s Sept. 27 meeting of Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), the commission held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the Town’s zoning regulations that would effectively prevent any cannabis-related businesses from being established in Wilton for a period of one year.

The proposed amendment states,

“All cannabis establishments are prohibited in all zoning districts in the town of Wilton for a period of 12 months commencing from the effective date ___.”

Why A Temporary Action?

The temporary prohibition is intended to give the Town a window of time to observe the rollout of the complex legislation (enacted on July 1) that legalized cannabis in the state and to assess what commercial activity is in Wilton’s interests to ultimately allow or prohibit.

As Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn noted during the meeting, several surrounding towns and other municipalities across the state have made similar temporary zoning restrictions.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Wrinn said, highlighting traffic impact as one potential complication for a municipality.

“This is not a case of ‘are we against cannabis’,” said Wrinn, but rather a way to “hold off” until greater clarity on state licensing and other details of the rollout emerge.

As noted in a memo from Wrinn to P&Z on Sept. 8, the law that legalized recreational adult use of marijuana also preserved local control for the municipalities to amend their zoning regulations regarding cannabis “establishments” within their borders.

Local planning and zoning authorities can allow or prohibit any of the various types of cannabis establishments, or restrict their hours of operation, signage or location within their towns.

While retail stores get most of the public’s attention, there are 11 different types of cannabis establishments that will eventually be licensed by the state. They include cultivators (i.e., growing operations, categorized by size); food, beverage and other product manufacturers; and packaging, delivery and transport companies.

P&Z first began to explore the potential zoning implication at its Aug. 16 meeting. The commission initially discussed the proposed zoning amendment at its Sept. 13 meeting, when it also announced a public hearing would be scheduled for Sept. 27.

Public Hearing Opened and Closed

Only one resident submitted a letter requesting that what he called “this exploratory moratorium” on retail stores would be “given a sunset” in order to “prevent the [Planning & Zoning Commission] from extending the moratorium indefinitely without a public vote.”

As it states explicitly, the amendment would expire after one year. P&Z could also take action to change the regulations before that time, if it wished to do so.

No residents requested to be heard in the public hearing via Zoom.

The pubic hearing is now closed.

BOS Supports The Action

In a Sept. 27 memo to P&ZFirst Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, wrote in support of the proposed P&Z action.

“As you are aware, a recently adopted state regulation allows a municipality’s legislative body to adopt an ordinance prohibiting or restricting the sale of recreational cannabis within said municipality. At the July 20, 2021 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, it was the consensus of the Board to bring referendum questions related to such to a special town meeting with an adjourned vote.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting on August 2, 2021, attorney Nicholas Bamonte informed the Board that legal authority did not exist to allow the referendum questions to be placed on the ballot of the upcoming November 2021 state sponsored election. For practical purposes, this meant the special town meeting and adjourned vote cannot occur before January 2022. Attorney Bamonte also shared that many municipalities were choosing to modify their zoning regulations to prohibit cannabis establishments for a temporary period of time to allow for further clarification from the State.

Such a temporary modification would provide adequate time for the Board of Selectmen to hold a special town meeting with adjourned vote and, if the outcome should so dictate, propose and adopt any required ordinance. As such, the Board of Selectmen supports the proposed modifications which allow for the prohibition of adult use cannabis establishments for a 12-month period.”

P&Z also made a statutory referral to WestCOG, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, regarding the proposed zoning amendment.

The council responded, “The proposal is of local interest and with minimal intermunicipal impact. Therefore, it is not being forwarded to adjacent municipalities and the regional staff is making no comment.”

Next Steps

With no members of the public expressing opposition to the proposed P&Z action, and with the support of town leadership, P&Z will vote on a resolution to adopt the proposed amendment at the next P&Z meeting, scheduled for Oct. 12.

All documents pertaining to the new regulation and written public comment may be found on the town website.