Marijuana plants in a greenhouse in 2022 in Riverhead, a...

Marijuana plants in a greenhouse in 2022 in Riverhead, a town that now is considering loosening its zoning restrictions for recreational pot dispensaries. Credit: James Carbone

Dozens of sites could become eligible for recreational cannabis shops in Riverhead if the town board adopts a new zoning recommendation from the municipality's marijuana advisory committee.

The committee has pitched allowing the pot dispensaries to be located within 1,000 feet of homes along the town's major commercial arteries, according to Councilman Ken Rothwell, the committee's leader.

Currently, town zoning requires the shops to be 1,000 feet away from residences. They also have to be 1,000 feet from schools and libraries, 500 feet from town facilities, playgrounds and churches and 2,500 feet from each other.

The new recommendation doesn't put any limit on how close shops in the commercial areas could be to the homes if the shops meet other zoning restrictions.

While the current zoning leaves five sites available for dispensaries, both Rothwell and Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti have estimated the proposed revision could provide 144 potential locations.

The marijuana advisory committee recently went back to the drawing board to look at zoning after pushback about a lack of available shop sites from the town’s business advisory committee and marijuana entrepreneurs eyeing property in Riverhead.

The state adopted regulations that went into effect in October under which potential recreational marijuana store owners can file an appeal if they feel a municipality has “unreasonably impracticable” zoning or other requirements.

Under the regulations, applicants who feel thwarted by local processes can appeal to the state Office of Cannabis Management.

Prudenti said in an interview that the town's marijuana advisory committee identified five commercial corridors that could host recreational cannabis shops if the town board adopted its recommendation for less restrictive zoning. They are: Route 25A in Wading River, Middle Country Road in Calverton, Route 58 in Riverhead, Main Road in Aquebogue and Main Road in Jamesport.

The committee's recommendation included that each corridor could have one dispensary except for Route 58, which could host five to seven of the businesses as long as they were 2,500 feet apart, Prudenti said.

The deputy town attorney said committee members are trying to balance residents’ concerns about living close to the dispensaries with providing enough availability for recreational cannabis businesses. 

Rothwell said in an interview he believes the town's zoning for the shops, first adopted in November 2022, is too restrictive

“We basically were eliminating almost all possibilities throughout the town,” Rothwell said. “We were basically down to five parcels, one of which was the town highway department, which is obviously not a possibility.”

There are at least a dozen applicants hoping to open a dispensary in Riverhead, according to documents Newsday obtained recently through Freedom of Information Law requests.

Responses the town sent to the state Office of Cannabis Management show Riverhead has objected to all but two of those sites since they don't comply with current zoning requirements.

One of those two potential Riverhead sites is a vacant commercial building at the corner of Route 58 and Kroemer Avenue and the other is Columbia Care’s existing medical marijuana dispensary on East Main Street. The company is seeking dual medical and recreational adult-use licensing.

Gahrey Ovalle, president of the trade group Long Island Cannabis Coalition, said he appreciates that Riverhead is reconsidering its zoning regulations.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Ovalle said. “We’re hoping it will actually translate to actual spaces where we can open up cannabis dispensaries.”

Ovalle said his group plans to analyze new potential properties to weigh whether they are viable.

Dispensaries wouldn't be permitted in downtown Riverhead under overlay zoning restrictions the town board adopted in April.

On East Main Street in Riverhead, business owner Manisha Patel said he has kept a storefront open at his shopping center with the goal of opening a retail dispensary. It’s unclear whether his site would be impacted by the changes, but he’s hopeful since it has frontage on Old Country Road.

“There are no kids' activities, libraries … no schools, nothing like that,” Patel said of the area.

Town officials previously objected to his proposed site since it is within 1,000 feet of residences.

Riverhead is one of only four Long Island towns allowing retail pot sales along with Babylon, Brookhaven and Southampton. Babylon also is considering measures to reduce the distance between dispensaries and homes to 750 feet from 1,000 feet.

In January, Rothwell plans to introduce legislation so the town board could adopt the marijuana advisory committee's zoning recommendation. A public hearing would have to be held before legislators would vote on such a measure.

Dozens of sites could become eligible for recreational cannabis shops in Riverhead if the town board adopts a new zoning recommendation from the municipality's marijuana advisory committee.

The committee has pitched allowing the pot dispensaries to be located within 1,000 feet of homes along the town's major commercial arteries, according to Councilman Ken Rothwell, the committee's leader.

Currently, town zoning requires the shops to be 1,000 feet away from residences. They also have to be 1,000 feet from schools and libraries, 500 feet from town facilities, playgrounds and churches and 2,500 feet from each other.

The new recommendation doesn't put any limit on how close shops in the commercial areas could be to the homes if the shops meet other zoning restrictions.

While the current zoning leaves five sites available for dispensaries, both Rothwell and Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti have estimated the proposed revision could provide 144 potential locations.

The marijuana advisory committee recently went back to the drawing board to look at zoning after pushback about a lack of available shop sites from the town’s business advisory committee and marijuana entrepreneurs eyeing property in Riverhead.

The state adopted regulations that went into effect in October under which potential recreational marijuana store owners can file an appeal if they feel a municipality has “unreasonably impracticable” zoning or other requirements.

Under the regulations, applicants who feel thwarted by local processes can appeal to the state Office of Cannabis Management.

Prudenti said in an interview that the town's marijuana advisory committee identified five commercial corridors that could host recreational cannabis shops if the town board adopted its recommendation for less restrictive zoning. They are: Route 25A in Wading River, Middle Country Road in Calverton, Route 58 in Riverhead, Main Road in Aquebogue and Main Road in Jamesport.

The committee's recommendation included that each corridor could have one dispensary except for Route 58, which could host five to seven of the businesses as long as they were 2,500 feet apart, Prudenti said.

The deputy town attorney said committee members are trying to balance residents’ concerns about living close to the dispensaries with providing enough availability for recreational cannabis businesses. 

Rothwell said in an interview he believes the town's zoning for the shops, first adopted in November 2022, is too restrictive

“We basically were eliminating almost all possibilities throughout the town,” Rothwell said. “We were basically down to five parcels, one of which was the town highway department, which is obviously not a possibility.”

There are at least a dozen applicants hoping to open a dispensary in Riverhead, according to documents Newsday obtained recently through Freedom of Information Law requests.

Responses the town sent to the state Office of Cannabis Management show Riverhead has objected to all but two of those sites since they don't comply with current zoning requirements.

One of those two potential Riverhead sites is a vacant commercial building at the corner of Route 58 and Kroemer Avenue and the other is Columbia Care’s existing medical marijuana dispensary on East Main Street. The company is seeking dual medical and recreational adult-use licensing.

Gahrey Ovalle, president of the trade group Long Island Cannabis Coalition, said he appreciates that Riverhead is reconsidering its zoning regulations.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Ovalle said. “We’re hoping it will actually translate to actual spaces where we can open up cannabis dispensaries.”

Ovalle said his group plans to analyze new potential properties to weigh whether they are viable.

Dispensaries wouldn't be permitted in downtown Riverhead under overlay zoning restrictions the town board adopted in April.

On East Main Street in Riverhead, business owner Manisha Patel said he has kept a storefront open at his shopping center with the goal of opening a retail dispensary. It’s unclear whether his site would be impacted by the changes, but he’s hopeful since it has frontage on Old Country Road.

“There are no kids' activities, libraries … no schools, nothing like that,” Patel said of the area.

Town officials previously objected to his proposed site since it is within 1,000 feet of residences.

Riverhead is one of only four Long Island towns allowing retail pot sales along with Babylon, Brookhaven and Southampton. Babylon also is considering measures to reduce the distance between dispensaries and homes to 750 feet from 1,000 feet.

In January, Rothwell plans to introduce legislation so the town board could adopt the marijuana advisory committee's zoning recommendation. A public hearing would have to be held before legislators would vote on such a measure.

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Updated now Newsday/Sienna College poll ... Avalon Bay apartments in Amityville ... JFK travel this weekend ... Summer concert preview

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