• Letter To Stamford Mayor Highlights Significant Issues Surrounding Cannabis Dispensary Planned For 417 Shippan Avenue

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    The following letter was submitted to Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, along with the Stamford Zoning Board Members on April 25, 2024, by Thomas M. Kuczynski, a City of Stamford Board of Representatives Member from District 1. We share his letter in its entirety, with his permission.

    Vape pen. Public Domain.

    Dear Mayor,

    As you know, the Zoning Board is scheduled to meet and decide upon (deny or approve) special permit application 223-45 (SPA 223-45) for a Hybrid Cannabis Dispensary at 417 Shippan Avenue on Monday, April 29, 2024. This decision has already been pushed back twice.

    I write to you on this matter in my capacity as a City of Stamford Board of Representatives Member for District 1 (which encompasses 417 Shippan Avenue).

    Having lived in the district for about 25 years -- and having served as a trustee of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church and on the Board of Directors of the Shippan Point Association -- I have developed a robust understanding of the area including its people, institutions, businesses, and public facilities. An understanding that those, perhaps, who don’t live here, have lived here for less time, or who have not served in these specific community-facing organizations would not benefit from. This letter is intended to both enumerate several of the salient facts related to SPA 223-45 and to serve as part of the public record.

    Two questions regarding the proposed hybrid cannabis dispensary have risen to the top of the decision stack:

    /1/ Is it within 1,000 feet of a public or non-public school? [ZB Use Regulations 5.E.]

    /2/ Will it have a deleterious impact on the surrounding neighborhood? [ZB 19.C.]

    The answer to BOTH these questions is yes and therefore in accordance with the regulations the application must be denied -- denied on the basis of BOTH /1/ and /2/.

    Is it within 1,000 feet of a public or non-public school?

    [ZR Section 5 - Use Regulations / Adult - Use Cannabis Retailer, including Hybrid Retailers]

    Stamford Martial Arts and the West Beach soccer facility meet the criteria for a non-public school and a public school, respectively. Additionally, Stamford Recreation Star Center and Building One Community arguably also meets the definition of a school. I elaborate on the related facts later in the letter. These schools are within the 1,000-foot prohibition radius.

    Will it have a deleterious impact on the surrounding neighborhood?

    [ZR 19.C.Special Permits]

    Landowner A cannot start using his property such that Landowner B’s property now floods as a result of A’s changed use. But this is what SAP 223-45 proposes to do. Ayr Wellness’s operations at 417 Shippan Avenue will have a damaging impact on the child- and youth-centric institutions and activities in the immediate area.

    Fortunately, the Zoning Board is not asked to make a decision in an intellectual or scientific vacuum. Through oral and written testimony, you and they have heard from a “who’s who” of Connecticut subject matter experts and community leaders in child psychology, substance abuse and treatment, pediatric mental health, law enforcement, education, immigration services and churches who differ in perspectives but unite on the substantial, immediate and lasting harm approval of SAP 223-45 will create.

    These speakers and letter writers lead organizations such as Liberation Programs, Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut, Family Centers, Connecticut Office of the State’s Attorney, Stamford Board of Education, The NAACP, Person-to-Person, The Knights of Columbus and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church to name a few. You have also received a petition with over 600 hard copy signatures and letters from neighborhood residents who understand the consequences of a hybrid cannabis dispensary in this location. They have the benefit of lived experience among their families, relatives and friends and they know the neighborhood.

    Let’s take a look at some of the factors at play here…

    Public Trust

    Recent news articles regarding Art Linares’s role as the CEO of Cannabis Rodeo, “the largest cannabis grower in New England,” has accelerated the growing public impression that this prominent, highly visible location in full view of Cummings Park is favored by the Simmons administration – Zoning Board included -- as a means of supporting Mr. Linares’s business interests. The thinking goes that favorable treatment of Ayr Wellness’s retail expansion efforts will benefit Cannabis Rodeo’s future relationship with Ayr Wellness as a potentially important national wholesale customer of Cannabis Rodeo hash oil-based products. In other words, an inappropriate quid pro quo relationship whereby the facts and the regulations are given a ‘light touch” by the administration’s Zoning Board such that SPA 223-45 can be approved, and Ayr Wellness’s expansion plans advanced.

    Screenshot, Rodeo Cannabis

    This perception, however false it may be, undermines public trust in our city’s government and governance. To counter this, it is critical that the Zoning Board:

    • Act in in a highly transparent fashion;
    • Fully account for the proposed location’s child- and youth-centric nature (including pediatric mental health and substance abuse services);
    • Incorporate the expert testimony provided by organizations such as Liberation Programs, Child Guidance Center for Southern CT, and the CT Office of the State’s Attorney; and
    • Avoid racial bias regarding the non-Western nature of Stamford Martial Arts’ school

    Medical Clinics

    Located on the same parking lot as 417 Shippan Avenue are two medical clinics: Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut and Americares Free Clinic. Importantly, the Child Guidance Center serves children suffering from mental and emotional issues including those related to substance abuse.

    Americares serves children and adults who cannot afford medical care elsewhere. In other words, some of the most vulnerable among us. Americares’s written policy and practice is to refuse service to anyone under the influence of drugs (including cannabis).

    Again, in no way is the operation of a hybrid cannabis dispensary compatible with the existing use of the immediate area (pediatric substance abuse treatment). In fact, it is a real impediment to their ability to function and successfully provide these services.

    Non-Public Schools

    Stamford Martial Arts (SMA)

    SMA is a non-public school serving the needs of Pre-K through high school students. Their students attend regularly scheduled classes and receive instruction from certified teachers. Furthermore, the facility is an accredited school under the accrediting authority of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association, an internationally recognized school accreditation organization based in West Haven, CT. The accrediting authority maintains a Board of Governors, Board of Directors, Regional Advisory Committee, and a Scholarship Committee. Lastly, SMA’s State of Connecticut business license documents SMA as a school.

    SMA’s website homepage displays their tagline: “Skills for Life” and goes on to proclaim: “Serving Fairfield County for over 35 Years / Internationally Certified / Maintaining High Standards of Excellence.”

    Based on our zoning regulation definitions, SMA meets the definition of a non-public school. They promote themselves as a school; they conduct scheduled classes for children; they are accredited as a school; and their business license lists them as a school. Critically, SMA is less than 1,000 feet from 417 Shippan Avenue. In fact, it shares a parking lot with them and is 210 feet door-to-door.

    Knights of Columbus #41 Saint Augustine Council

    The Knights of Columbus was founded on the principles of charity, unity and fraternity in New Haven, CT in 1882. With over 1.2 million members worldwide, the international organization supports local councils that in turn support their local communities. In addition to the significant charitable work conducted by Council #41, they sponsor a youth organization with the objective of developing leadership skills in Catholic young men ages 10-18 years. The distance between the Knights of Columbus property at 507 Shippan Avenue and 417 Shippan Avenue is approximately 115 feet.

    Building One Community

    MacKenzie Scott’s recent high-profile $2 million donation is intended to support B1C’s mission. This mission includes educating children and providing immigration services. Much has been discussed regarding the educational services provided at B1C and Stamford’s Corporation Counsel has issued a document which states B1C could be classified as a non-public school under the city’s definition. What is less discussed is B1C’s immigration services. While cannabis is legal for many uses in Connecticut, it remains a DEA Schedule 1 drug on the Federal government’s controlled substances lists. B1C’s immigration services deal with Federal laws not Connecticut laws.

    These services, in part, aid clients with the U.S. naturalization and immigration processes including Green Card and citizenship applications. I am told by legal volunteers at B1C that these forms require attestations as to drug possession or use including cannabis. If the applicants have used or possessed cannabis their Green Card and citizenship applications will be rejected and the applicants themselves run the risk of deportation. The same is true if they lie about the matter. As such, co-locating a retailer of the very product that will lead to legal status limbo or deportation seems antisocial and perhaps even unduly cruel.

    Lastly, as it relates to ‘non-public schools’ we have the thoughts of Stamford’s corporation

    “The Board asks whether the programs and activities offered for children at Building One Community (“B1C”), Americares, and Knights of Columbus (“KOC”) would qualify these facilities as “schools” per the Zoning Regulations (the “Regulations”). This request is being made presumably because the Regulations state that no Adult-Use Cannabis Retailer shall be located within 1,000 feet of public or non-public schools as defined by the Regulations. Our reading of the applicable regulations suggests that the programs and activities offered for children at these facilities could meet the definition of “schools” as established in the Regulations, subject to a fact specific inquiry by the Board.”

    Public School

    Contiguous to West Beach, the City of Stamford operates the Stamford Recreation Star Center. The center operates year-round offering a multitude of educational and recreational programs for children and youth including a pre-school and a summer camp that include the use of West Beach. West Beach is inside the 1,000-foot “no go” zone of 417 Shippan Avenue.

    West Beach, Stamford, CT. Photo Credit: City of Stamford

    Public High School Campus Extension

    Stamford High School’s Black Knights student soccer team uses the soccer facility at West Beach park for their regular afternoon practice sessions in lieu of the fields on the main Strawberry Hill campus. These practice sessions are under the sole and direct supervision of Stamford High School’s athletic department. As such, it is reasonable to view this soccer facility as an extension of the public high school’s campus which would preclude the approval of a hybrid cannabis dispensary.

    Youth League Athletic Fields

    The athletic fields and courts at Cummings Park are situated directly across the street -- and within view -- from 417 Shippan Avenue. These facilities are used throughout their seasons by many youth athletic leagues. Current park permit holders include Stamford Little League, Stamford Girl’s Babe Ruth, Stamford Youth Soccer League, Six Love Tennis, and Grass Roots Tennis. These activities attract hundreds of children and teens along with their friends and families on a regular basis. The dedicated coaches who lead these leagues seek to develop the kids’ athletic skills and gamesmanship but also their self-discipline, self-worth and character.

    Family Recreational Facilities

    Cummings Park and the adjacent West Beach draw families from across Stamford and beyond. Amenities include beaches; swimming areas; picnic areas; volleyball, basketball, and handball courts; walking/biking paths; a fishing pier; food vendors; and recreational open space.

    The Cummings and West Beach parks are assessed as being “under-policed.” As point of fact, there is only one full-time park police officer in the city of Stamford, and he is responsible for policing sixty two parks making it virtually impossible to provide adequate enforcement of existing laws and regulations. According to a recent study by the Stamford Parks & Recreation Department one of residents’ top concerns is physical safety and the smell of marijuana in our parks. Cannabis smoking is currently legal in our city parks and evidence suggests our parks are widely used for this purpose.

    In this context, it seems wholly unwise to approve a retailer of a federally controlled substance known for its recreational use across the street from an under-policed area where children congregate daily. This is “an accident waiting to happen.” Given these circumstances it would be naïve to assume cannabis products will not make their way into the hands and bodies of children and youth in these two adjacent parks. This is both foreseeable and probable. Approval of this application will create, in the words of best-selling author Tom Clancy, “a clear and present danger.”

    Cummings Park, Stamford, CT. Photo Credit: City of Stamford

    Public School Bus Stops

    Two City of Stamford Public School bus stops flank 417 Shippan Avenue. One at the intersection of Shippan Avenue and Wardell Street and the other at Shippan Avenue and Seaview Avenue. As a result, school children congregate in the area before and after school.

    Adjacency to Residential Uses

    Ayr Wellness’s application materially mis-represents the residential nature of the area when they write [417 Shippan Avenue is] “far from residences.” A review of the city’s zoning map and land records shows that the proposed location is, in fact, primarily comprised of residential neighborhoods surrounding a pocket of family-oriented services.

    Three doors down from 417 Shippan Avenue are the National Church Residences and Shippan Place buildings with 225 residents. Four doors north sits 15 multi-family homes on Hanover Street to say nothing of the thousands of single- and multi-family homes, apartment complexes and condominium buildings throughout The Cove and Shippan Point.

    Visual Prominence

    Exacerbating the situation, the standalone building at 417 Shippan Avenue is visually prominent. This structure is not situated at the back of a shopping complex or behind unobtrusive screening, it is front and center, facing directly onto Cummings Park along a curved parking-free portion of Shippan Avenue. As such, it is clearly visible from the children’s jungle gym, from the youth softball/baseball fields No. 1 and No. 2, and to everyone who passes by on Shippan Avenue on their way home or to the Stamford
    Recreation Star Center or to West Beach, or to Czescik Marina or to Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s or Our Lady Star of the Sea churches.

    In conclusion, many, if not all, of the above factors alone form a sufficient basis for denying SPA 223-45. However, when examined in their totality they form a clear and vivid picture -- a mosaic, if you will – of a large residential area surrounding a child- and youth-centric hub which will be materially harmed by the insertion of a hybrid cannabis retailer into its midst.

    417 Shippan sits at the bull’s eye of an area dense with child- and youth-centric facilities including non-public schools, a public school extension campus, a pre-school, social service organizations, a pediatric mental health clinic, a medical clinic, athletic fields, children’s playground and churches. Parents send their children to these institutions to learn, to heal, to be formed and to grow not to gain exposure to cannabis.

    Given all the above -- and given the growing perception regarding the administration’s connections with and influence from Cannabis Rodeo -- I advocate for a fully public and transparent decision process that honestly incorporates all the relevant facts and regulations. It is difficult to conceive how this can result in any outcome other than the denial of SPA 223.45 on broad grounds.


    Thomas M. Kuczynski
    City of Stamford Board of Representatives Member
    District 1

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