By Eric O’Connell/Zip06.com • 11/02/2021 04:20 p.m. EST
The Town Council passed five ordinances at its Oct. 20 meeting that affect marijuana sale and consumption, blight, fire marshal fees, and increases in the land use fees.
Only three of the ordinances have a substantial effect on the average Clinton residents: the blight ordinance, the ordinance that bans marijuana retail shops in town, and the one that prohibits the use of cannabis products on town owned property. All five of the ordinances were passed unanimously. Below is a breakdown of what each ordinance means.
Earlier this year, Connecticut legislators passed a bill that legalized recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. As a result, it is up to local zoning authorities to come up with regulations that either allow or do not allow a retail cannabis stores to open. At meeting on Sept. 13, the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) voted against proposed amendments to the zoning regulation that would have allowed a retail cannabis store to open in Clinton.
While the PZC voted to deny the proposed regulations, that doesn’t mean the commission explicitly banned the stores, which left open a loophole through which a business can still apply to open.
Citing the large public turnout at the PZC hearing where a majority of attendees were against retail marijuana stores in Clinton, the council members opted to pass an ordinance to close the loophole.
In addition to banning a business that sells cannabis products, the council also passed an ordinance would also ban a person from using cannabis products on town-owned property. The ordinance would subject a person to a $50 fine per violation.
The blight ordinance expands the definition of blight and changes some of the violations for blighted properties.
Under the new ordinance, blight complaints must be made in writing on forms provided by the town and submitted to the town manager or enforcement officer. (The previous ordinance directed complaints to the first selectman position, which no longer exists.) Should it be determined that blight has occurred, the responsible party will be notified in writing and given a list of ways that the property can be brought into compliance by an established deadline. An extension of the deadline may be granted and the violation can be contested by notifying the town manager or enforcement officer within 10 days (the current ordinance allows 15 days) of being notified of the issue.
The appeals will be heard by a blight hearing board who can consider all relevant information as to why a violation can be successfully appealed or held up. Blight hearing board decisions can also be appealed to the state superior court. The blight hearing board members will be appointed by the Town Council and its members cannot be members of the police department or employees who issue citations and fines or an employee who works in a department that enforces blight issues.
Under the new ordinance, a person willfully in violation can be fined $250 a day; the previous ordinance capped daily fines at $100.
In the event that a person responsible for a blighted property still doesn’t correct a violation even after enforcement action has been taken, the town may take action to correct the issue. Should that occur, the town may then file a civil claim against the party in order to recover all costs related to that corrective action.
The council approved an ordinance that revised the fee structure for fire marshal services, which Town Manager Karl Kilduff said is not unusual in Connecticut. The fees will not apply to reviews for single family houses, but will be associated with larger developments like commercial projects of multifamily residential projects.
Land Use Fees
The last ordinance passed by the council is an amendment to land use fees. The formula used to determine fees is meant to cover only the application cost and not lead to a profit for the town—in fact, it’s illegal for the town to try to collect a profit off of plan review fees. However, when large developments come before the office, the formula leads to developers getting charged excessive sums based on the square footage of their developments.
“As a result, the Town Council had to act twice recently to reduce the fee to meet the legal standard of having a fee that reflects to costs to review and act on an application. One part of the proposed changes fixes that situation. Inland wetland fees were also reviewed and amended upward to reflect the cost to review and act on an application. The trigger for fees also will now have some harmony between the different land use board,” Kilduff explained to the Harbor News earlier in 2021.
The Public Hearing
Prior to the meeting, the council held a public hearing for residents to share their thoughts about the ordinances. At the hearing, eight speakers spoke in favor of the proposed ordinances. The majority of the speakers were there in favor of the ordinance banning marijuana retail stores while two speakers spoke in favor of the blight ordinance.
Speakers cited the danger the substance poses for the town’s teens and their still-developing brains, the strain on law enforcement, and the lifestyles of those who use marijuana as reasons to support the ban.
John Allen, the Economic Development Commission chairman, spoke in support of the blight ordinance and said he was “thankful” the town was tackling the issue.
“The physical appearance of a town is a powerful tool in attracting visitors and businesses to town,” said Allen.