BRIDGEPORT — Despite getting the cold shoulder from zoning officials, two Trumbull women licensed to open a medical marijuana dispensary have not given up on doing so in Bridgeport.
“They need to try and look for alternative sites, but Bridgeport is their No. 1 location, and they’re trying to pursue that to the fullest extent of the law,” said Raymond Rizio, attorney for Karen Barski and Angela D’Amico of D&B Wellness.
Their application was twice rejected by zoning officials, so Rizio’s next step is to take the case to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, as Barski and D’Amico face a May 3 deadline to receive zoning approvals or potentially lose their state license.
In mid-April, Zoning Commission members, following public outcry, rejected D&B’s bid for a permit to open their pot dispensary at 2181 Main St. The company was among the handful of finalists recently awarded Connecticut’s first medical marijuana licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection.
Rizio has argued that Barski and D’Amico should have been able to request their permit directly from the Bridgeport zoning director, rather than having to face the Zoning Commission and go through a public hearing.
So in recent weeks that’s what he did. And recently the city’s Zoning Department again refused to grant the permits. Now Rizio will try to convince the city’s ZBA to overturn that decision.
The next step would be a lawsuit. Rizio is also hoping the state will give his clients an extension on their license beyond May 3.
“If we were D&B Pharmacy, we’d be entitled to that (zoning) approval over the counter,” Rizio said. “D&B Wellness is no different than D&B Pharmacy.”
Not true, said Edmund Schmidt, the city attorney who advises the zoning commission.
The “over the counter” process Rizio refers to is intended for “simple things … not worthy of the (commission’s) time,” Schmidt said.
A medical marijuana dispensary is not like a used car business seeking to open, Schmidt said.
“There is a new Connecticut law that’s being administered throughout the state for the first time, so there’s state law to digest, local zoning regulations to digest. There are a lot of issues,” Schmidt said. “CVS this is not.”
It is a “case of first impressions” with no precedents, that is best left up to a court to decide, he said.
“There are many areas of zoning law where there are 30, 40, 50 reported cases all saying the same thing,” Schmidt said. “Whereas something brand new, who’s to say? Sometimes there’s really a need for judicial decisions to clarify what the law is.”
Meanwhile, Schmidt said, the Zoning Commission is scheduling a public hearing on a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana proposals, during which officials could decide whether to adopt new regulations for future applications.
“The courts have upheld moratoriums generally for a period of six to 12 months,” Schmidt said. “All it means is you think you need some time to check out what other towns are doing and figure out what you want to do.”
If the moratorium is adopted, Bridgeport would join much of the rest of Fairfield County.
Last year, Mayor Bill Finch’s administration was bullish on the medical marijuana industry and working with applicants to find suitable locations for dispensaries and farms. In November 2012, he criticized the Zoning Commission for rejecting Fairfield resident Rob Schulter’s request to locate a medical marijuana farm in leased space at a warehouse at 50 Hastings St.
“It’s a legal use,” Finch said at the time. “We’ve got to give the private sector who’s wanting to spend their money here the assurance that these things are not going to languish and people are (not) going to go way off topic into areas that they’re neither qualified nor empowered to get into.”
But a few weeks ago, a Finch spokesman said the mayor was “encouraged” by the Zoning Commission’s decision to consider a moratorium.
Rizio last week attended a meeting of Westport’s Zoning Commission, which is also grappling with where to place medical marijuana facilities. Westport’s one-year moratorium expires in October.
Barski declined to discuss whether she and D’Amico are shopping their operation to other municipalities. She said they have been very frustrated with how they were treated in Bridgeport and the fact that the Zoning Commission’s rejection gave them little time before the state deadline to revive their application or find another location.
“They could have told us in November and December and not leave it down to the wire for us,” she said.
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