BLOOMFIELD — A proposed cannabis facility and hookah lounge are on Thursday's Planning and Zoning Commission agenda after two companies applied for special permits.
Miami-based Ayr Wellness, a cannabis cultivator and retailer, is seeking a special permit for a 64,000 square-foot cultivation facility on Granby Street. At the same meeting, members plan to discuss a permit application from JXC Hookah at Wintonbury Mall in the center of town for a hookah lounge and game spot.
The latter raised concerns for at least one member of the Bloomfield Town Council.
"I certainly don't want to come off as being anti-business," said Councilman Francis Politis. "But I think we need to have a vision of what our center of town should be, and I think we should be trying to cultivate businesses that portray that image that we're trying to develop."
Other residents raised concerns about both proposed businesses on Facebook, but the applicants for both facilities described their businesses as assets to the town.
"It's just a place where you relax, enjoy yourself," said Jhamari Copening, owner of JXC Hookah. "That's what it's there for. Sometimes we'll have DJs. We're going to do comedy shows. We're going to do open open mic nights. We try to bring something where it's different kinds of entertainment on different nights."
PZC member Dwight Bolton, one of the elected officials responsible for deciding the fate of the permits, declined to comment whether or not he would support the new businesses.
"I'm gonna have to chew on that one," Bolton said.
While it's unclear if, or even what the PZC might decide Thursday night, Director of Building and Land Use Justin LaFountain said the cannabis facility "certainly stands a chance" because the town amended its zoning regulations to allow for cannabis cultivation facilities in 2022.
"I can never guarantee what the commission is going to do," LaFountain said. However, "the commission seems open to it at this point."
More for you
As for the hookah and entertainment lounge, the zoning code poses challenges because "hookah," or a large commonly shared water pipe, is not mentioned anywhere in the zoning code. It will be up to the commission to decide if a more general ordinance about amusement with an "including, but not limited to" clause is wide enough to cover this type of business in the downtown district, which has a specific zoning code.
This would not be the first hookah or cannabis discussion in Bloomfield as the town has already approved a Fine Fettle grow facility and a hookah lounge outside of the downtown area in the past. However, the new proposals are raising questions about downtown zoning ordinances and the future of Bloomfield as a cannabis cultivator.
Cannabis cultivator with Hartford presence eyes Bloomfield
Ayr Wellness, which is working with Hartford City Councilwoman Tiana Hercules on her cannabis business proposal, is looking to build the single story building that include various rooms for flowering, harvesting, drying, processing, secure vaults and other support spaces, according to the company's special permit application. They would not dispense cannabis to the public on site, but would supply stock to retail outlets at other locations.
"The license type essentially has one cultivation facility and I believe two retail locations," said Rob Vanisko, vice president of public engagement at Ayr. "Those have yet to be sited, or at least publicly announced, but I know that we are in the process of siting those locations."
The grow facility would be located in an industrial zone, which allows cannabis cultivation by special permit. The parcel is 7.837 acres, and would be a suitable distance from all residential zones, schools and places of worship, according to the application.
Smell from cannabis is a main concern of many communities across the state, but the proposed application includes an "odor mitigation" plan.
"Generally, HVAC and filtration are the two primary ways" to keep the plant's strong odor from escaping the building, Vanisko said.
The mitigation plan details HVAC systems for each room, including recirculation systems in some rooms where humidity and temperature must be maintained. Some spaces also include "purge exhaust systems," which are activated at certain carbon dioxide levels.
Vanisko declined to comment on any specifics of the permit application until after Thursday's meeting.
"We never want to be just a group that kind of swoops in and wants to start just selling cannabis without introducing ourselves first and without actually making ourselves part of the community," Vanisko said.
What is a hookah?
Copening, who is looking to lease 48 Wintonbury Mall for a hookah lounge and gaming room, describes the business in it's application as "a place of fun and relaxation for its customers and the community."
Hookah is a way to smoke via water pipes, usually in a social setting. In the permit application, it states that JXC Hookah pipes contain .05 percent nicotine.
"Our coal that we use is coconut so it's organic," Copening said. "Everything that we do is top notch luxury. We want to provide the best service to our customers and have them basically have a great night out."
The company currently operates a mobile hookah service, but sought a permit in Middletown prior to a hookah ban in that city. Now they have set their sights on Bloomfield — a town with a close personal connection for Copening.
"I grew up in Hartford, my mom lives in Bloomfield," Copening said. "I grew up in that area, all my life. So I pretty much say that I'm a resident myself. I want to see something that people can enjoy for the area."
The Wintonbury Mall has been a site of controversy because of the high number of vacant units, despite its prominent downtown location. In the past the town considered using eminent domain to seize the property from California-based Los Cabos II Equities. More recently the owner, Shawn Bidsal, has done some exterior renovations.
Copening said Bidsal and Los Cabos II Equities have been accommodating to his business proposal.
"The process right now has been has been pretty good," Copening said. "I haven't really seen anything that I would say is out of the ordinary at this point."
The lounge would be open until midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Thursday, and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The business would close at 8 p.m. on Sundays.
Politis said he has concerns about the hours of a business like this in the center of town.
"I'm just not certain a hookah lounge is a proper business, something that has to be open in the wee hours in the morning," Politis said.
The PZC previously approved a hookah lounge in a more industrial area of town on Tobey Road, but it has yet to open.
Thursday's meeting is entirely virtual. Residents interested in participating or watching can do so here.