Teri Kroll, of Lindenhurst, voiced concerns over the zoning change at...

Teri Kroll, of Lindenhurst, voiced concerns over the zoning change at the Babylon Town Board meeting Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Babylon Town on Wednesday night approved a zoning change that will reduce the distance between residences and new recreational cannabis shops — but a change in how the town measures such distances will lead to fewer properties being available to dispensary owners, officials said. 

The town board voted 5-0 to reduce the distance between dispensaries and residences from a radius of 1,000 feet to 750 feet.

Other existing zoning restrictions in the town require that recreational pot dispensaries only be located in industrially zoned areas outside a 200-foot radius of religious properties and a 500-foot radius of schools, libraries, parks and any other areas "where minors congregate."

The town originally had 858 parcels that would meet the requirements and could be used for recreational cannabis dispensaries, said Kevin Bonner, director of operations for the town. The latest zoning change opened up an additional 77 properties, he said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Babylon Town has reduced the required radius between residences and cannabis dispensaries from 1,000 feet to 750 feet.
  • The town has also changed how it measures distances from dispensaries, leading to a drop in the number of available parcels.
  • The town anticipates at least three more dispensaries opening this year.

Separately, the town also changed how it will calculate distance between parcels, Bonner said. Instead of measuring from a central point in the property, the town now measures from property line to property line and eliminates parcels that are even partially in the restricted distance. These changes have led to an overall drop in the number of available properties to 827, Bonner said. 

At the public hearing Wednesday night, a few people spoke of their concerns with the reduction in distance to residences. 

“We have to protect the children in our area,” said Teri Kroll, 65, of Lindenhurst, who then asked the board if there is a cap on the number of dispensaries that can open in the town.

Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer told Kroll there is no official cap, but rather an “artificial” limit due to all of the town’s requirements, and he estimated only five or six parcels will be eligible. Kroll then asked about any further changes to the regulations.

“We’re not changing anything anymore,” Schaffer said.

Dispensary sales are only permitted to those age 21 and older.

Babylon is home to the only state-licensed brick-and-mortar recreational marijuana shops in operation on Long Island. Strain Stars opened in East Farmingdale in July and Happy Days Dispensary, located two miles away, opened earlier this month.

Matt McDonough, an outside attorney for the town, previously told Newsday the town anticipates at least three more dispensaries launching before the end of the year.

Babylon, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton are the only Long Island towns to allow retail pot sales. The towns have different zoning restrictions on where the shops can open, leading some potential applicants to complain that the regulations have left them with few storefront options, Newsday has reported.

Strain Stars took in about $13.3 million in its first three months, Newsday previously reported. Under state law, the town gets to keep 3% of the revenue from recreational cannabis shops.

Gahrey Ovalle, president of the trade group Long Island Cannabis Coalition, told Newsday that measuring from property line to property line puts Babylon at odds with state regulations.

“We appreciate that they reduced their residential setback, but they really need to fall into compliance with the state and they need to do so now,” Ovalle said.

Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman from the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, would not comment on whether Babylon is in compliance but shared a portion of the state regulations, which require that measurements from a dispensary to schools, houses of worship, and public youth facilities "be taken in a straight line from the center of the nearest entrance" of a dispensary. The regulations do not appear to mention residences. 

In an email to Newsday, Ghitelman wrote the state will continue to work with municipalities to “ensure local laws around cannabis retail are consistent” with state cannabis laws. Ghitelman added that “if individuals feel the laws are overly onerous” they can file a complaint with the Cannabis Control Board to review local regulations.

In response to Ovalle's comments, Bonner, the town's director of operations, said in an email, "Lot line to lot line measurement is both Town of Babylon policy as well as long-held Long Island land use precedent,” adding that "the ability to set zoning regulations and setbacks was delegated to the towns, and the OCM has not officially preempted the Town's ability to do this."

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