The Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night approved the application to install a mighty electronic billboard on top of the Webster Bank Arena opposed by Lamar, the national outdoor advertising company that wants the billboard limited solely to promoting arena events. Billboard supporters say the billboard serves as both a revenue generator and city image booster. Zoners also rejected the initial application of a Fairfield man who proposed a warehouse farm in response to the state’s new law allowing distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. The medical industry is sorting out process and compliance in the law’s infancy.
Brian Lockhart of CT Post reports:
By this time next year, an East Side warehouse could be at the forefront of Connecticut’s new medical marijuana frontier.
And it’s not that far out–or far away.
In fact, it would be at 50 Hastings St., where Rob Schulter, a self-described Fairfield entrepreneur, has plans to grow and sell weed wholesale out of a renovated building to treat symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other debilitating diseases.
“Everyone has been touched by someone who has had a need,” Schulter said, citing his mother’s recent death from cancer and a cousin’s battle with the disease.
Schulter has the support of Mayor Bill Finch’s administration, but his initial application was shot down Monday by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Members said Connecticut’s medical marijuana law is still too new and they need more information about regulation and oversight.
“We are still hopeful that we can get the approvals necessary to be able to operate in Bridgeport,” Frederic Ury, Schulter’s attorney, said afterward.
But despite the serious intent of Ury’s proposal, zoning commission Chairman Mel Reilly couldn’t help but joke that if the place ever caught fire, crowds would be “gathering around and inhaling.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in June signed a bill making Connecticut the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana. On Oct. 1, the Department of Consumer Protection began accepting applications from residents for temporary permits.
The regulations governing the growing and distribution system will not be ready until July.
The law limits the number of growers to a minimum of three and a maximum of 10. Schulter wants his local zoning permits in place so when those strict rules are finalized, he can be among the first in line.
“We’re really trying to be proactive and as far ahead as we possibly can,” Ury told zoning commissioners.
Schulter would lease space at 50 Hastings St., growing an estimated 100 pounds of marijuana annually to licensed distributors and employing a staff of around five. Under state law, he would pay a $25,000 licensing fee and a $2 million performance bond.
David Kooris, head of Bridgeport’s economic development office who attended Monday’s meeting, said the city had been in discussions with Schulter for about six months.
Kooris said he is indifferent to what Schulter wants to cultivate.
“The fact is, this is a viable, private sector business at one of our vacant industrial buildings we’re having a challenging time filling,” Kooris said.
Because of pot’s reputation, Schulter in an interview acknowledged he was not going out of his way to draw attention to his plan. The zoning commission agenda, for example, said his application was for a “year round hydroponic plant cultivation business.”
And it was a couple of minutes into Monday’s presentation before marijuana was mentioned.
Commissioners are concerned about having adequate security and ensuring Schulter employees would not steal his crops. Schulter and Ury said surveillance cameras will be installed, there will be daily inventory, and the state will likely impose a variety of other stringent requirements.
“It’s the old `chicken and egg’ problem,” Edmund Schmidt, the commission’s attorney, advised members when they were deliberating Schulter’s application. “There’s really no road map on how to do it yet.”
In other business, zoning commissioners approved an application to install a giant electronic V-shaped billboard on Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
The proposal was challenged by city-based Lamar Outdoor Advertising and community activist Carmen Lopez.
Charlie Dowd, senior vice president of arena operations, said the sign, visible from Interstate 95, will increase audiences.
“This is not the time to stymie progress,” Dowd told the commission. “We’re making huge, dramatic leaps in the entertainment we bring in and would like to tell people about it.”