BRUNSWICK — Brunswick officials are looking to revise some of the town’s marijuana permitting rules after realizing they inadvertently zoned themselves into a corner.

As written, the conditional use ordinances effectively prohibit any retail marijuana in town, even in the places it’s supposed to be allowed. 

The issue arose when the planning board tabled the town’s first application for a retail store in May after determining that the establishment would negatively impact traffic around the proposed site at 4 Business Parkway.

According to the current ordinance criteria, a proposed use must not create “significantly more vehicular traffic” than the uses currently within 300 feet of the proposed site or create “additional adverse impacts” on any use or structure within the same distance. 

In Brunswick, retail recreational marijuana is only allowed in industrial zones. But according to Matt Panfil, director of planning and development, by nature, a retail store is going to generate significantly more traffic than any industrial use.

Amy Tchao, an attorney representing GJoris LLC, the retail applicant, said in an email earlier this spring that “the town seems to have created a situation in its conditional use permitting process where, by applying this traffic standard, it is now functionally impossible for any retail marijuana store to be located in that zone.”

“Our application was the first of its kind before the Planning Board,” she said, and “exposed this critical and unintended flaw in its permitting process.”

Planning board members chose to table the request in May rather than deny it, and member Jane Arbuckle called it “very troubling” that “we’ve created a situation where in reality, these stores can’t be anywhere.” 

Despite the inconsistencies, board Chairperson Charlie Frizzle said the board does not have the legal authority to approve an application that doesn’t meet the requirements.

It “makes the process more difficult than intended, but it’s worded the way that it is and it’s the rule that we have to go by at this time,” he said. 

Officials are taking a second look at the ordinance and are proposing a slight revision that will stipulate that traffic will now “be greater than would occur from any uses designated as a permitted use or conditional use within the same zoning district.” 

Other provisions, such as not resulting in hazardous or unsafe conditions of pedestrians or cyclists and not impeding emergency vehicles also apply.

The planning board also recommends a requirement that there be no “adverse impact of a use on existing or planned municipal services, utilities, or other necessary facilities.”

The latter addition not only “serves no purpose” but also “may have the unintended consequence of inviting confusion,” Leah Rachin, an attorney also representing GJoris LLC wrote in a letter to the council, since if allowed in the zone, that essentially goes without saying, she said.

Residents can weigh in at a public hearing Aug. 17. 

The retail plan

Michael DiPersia, representing GJoris LLC, first presented plans in February to construct a 3,100-square-foot, single-story recreational marijuana retail facility in the Brunswick Industrial Park. The project proposal included 64 parking spaces, with the option to expand to 82 if needed.

At the time, Planning Director Matt Panfil expressed concern that the parking lot included roughly six times the recommended number of spaces, but DiPersia said that if anything, he thought it was a low estimate, especially given that it will be one of the only recreational spots in the area. 

Joseph Marden, project manager, said later that the business, the name of which has not yet been announced, is expected to be a regional draw, with more out of town customers than local ones. 

The project generated controversy from the outset, with representatives from 3 Business Parkway, which is across the street. 

Greg Hastings, one of the owners, said he was concerned about the dramatic increase in traffic, one he said “clearly meets the definition of significant.” Courtney Doherty Oland, president of Guardian Pharmacy of Maine, which also operates out of 3 Business Parkway, shared similar concerns, as well as worries that people might park in the pharmacy’s parking lot, taking up spaces and creating additional pedestrian traffic. 

According to meeting materials and calculations done before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the facility is expected to generate approximately 158 additional one-way trips during peak hours on weekdays and 113 during peak hours on Saturdays. Combined with the 94 one-way trips the business park generates during peak hours on weekdays, the facility would create a roughly 168% increase. 

This, as well as the substantial increase in the number of parking spaces, “is indicative of increased traffic beyond a normal retail use, let alone the surrounding industrial uses within 300 feet of the proposed use,” according to town planning staff.  

Editor’s note: The Times Record is a tenant of 3 Business Parkway. 

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