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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Norwich seeks to revise zoning regulations to welcome cannabis operations

    Norwich — It was not enough for Norwich officials to openly welcome the new Connecticut cannabis industry by hosting public forums and making announcements that a “welcome” sign was on the door.

    As the mayor’s office, Norwich Community Development Corp. and planning and zoning staff continued to field phone calls, the repeated question from cannabis manufacturing and retail developers was: where does it say so in your zoning ordinances and regulations?

    The new state law governing recreational manufacture and sale of cannabis products includes what NCDC President Kevin Brown called the “as if condition.” If a municipality did not specifically prohibit cannabis — many municipalities have enacted at least temporary moratoriums prohibiting it — and did not alter its regulations, the industry would be permitted in zones that allow similar operations.

    City leaders quickly learned that developers willing to make multimillion-dollar investments in a potential location found that wording too vague.

    “What I have recognized in talking to the various cultivators and retailers interested in doing business here," Brown said, "is they really needed an affirmative statement that didn’t rely on an ‘as if condition,’ zoned as if it was any other manufacturer, any other retailer.”

    To make that affirmative statement, the City Council will consider a proposed ordinance Monday, April 4, that would add definitions for “plant-based manufacturing” to the list of terms defining the kinds of manufacturers allowed in the city.

    “Commercial cultivation, micro-cultivation, manufacturing, and production of plant-based products, and food or beverages, may be permitted as Manufacturing, Advanced Manufacturing, Food Manufacturing, Precision Manufacturing, and Research and Development,” the proposed ordinance states.

    The council, which serves as the zoning board in Norwich, will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 100 Broadway. The council could vote on the proposed ordinance during its regular meeting, which begins at 7:30 that night.

    Separately, the City Council at its March 21 meeting unanimously approved a resolution addressing potential cannabis retail establishments. The resolution clarifies the council’s intent to allow cannabis retail stores and anticipates future action to codify the wording in a zoning ordinance, said Mayor Peter Nystrom, a co-sponsor of the resolution.

    “This gives the notice to people in permitting that we’re OK with it,” Nystrom said, referring to the City Council as the zoning board. “They didn’t want to grant a permit and have us say, ‘you didn’t ask us.’”

    The resolution identifies cannabis retail as similar to shops that sell alcohol, including package, grocery, drug and convenience stores. Zoning regulations require at least a 1,500-foot distance from other such stores, but the new state cannabis law currently would allow Norwich to have only one retail cannabis store.

    The law mandates 1,000 feet of separation from any elementary, middle or high school and from public libraries. The library distance requirement eliminates much of downtown, from Otis Library at 261 Main St. to an area past the Norwich Superior Courthouse, Nystrom said.

    On the manufacturing side, the state law would allow developers who locate in areas identified as those disproportionately impacted by past drug enforcement laws to avoid the state lottery system for cannabis licenses.

    Six of the nine Norwich census tracts fall within the so-called Disproportionately Impacted Areas, but Brown said unfortunately, the Norwich business park is outside those areas. Finding the desired 30,000 to 100,000 square feet of space on lots at least 3 acres in size within the six qualifying census tracts is limiting, Brown said.

    He could not discuss specific sites but said he is confident Norwich will be successful in landing at least one cannabis manufacturing facility and one retail store. The manufacturing facility would become a major utility user, possibly consuming two to three megawatts of electricity, bringing revenues to both Norwich Public Utilities and the city.

    Timeframes are less certain, but Brown estimated the state licensing process will be completed by this summer, and “the cannabis industry will start to come to life” in Norwich by early 2023.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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