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Plans to site a recreational marijuana dispensary in a vacant former bank branch on Ostrander Avenue off Route 58 have fallen through, according to the business owner, who said the town’s restrictive zoning requirements have him looking outside of Riverhead Town. 

Sean Lustberg, the owner of Mottz Only Authentic New York Style and recipient of a provisional adult-use dispensary license, said he has moved on after learning that the building at 1201 Ostrander Avenue, formerly occupied by People’s United Bank, was too close to a residential use and that there was little hope to change the zoning to allow the shop there.

“We’ve just moved on from Riverhead, because I just think that the process there — they’ve made it too restrictive,” Lustberg said. “And there’s just no properties really available.”

Lustberg said he heard there was still someone interested in siting a dispensary at the location. Ike Israel of Richmond Realty, the real estate agent Lustberg said he dealt with to lease the property, did not immediately return a call requesting comment. 

The former bank branch on Ostrander Avenue, north of Route 58 where a retail marijuana dispensary was proposed. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Town’s cannabis code, adopted in November 2022, allows the use in any town zoning district where retail stores are permitted, but establishes setback restrictions prohibiting marijuana shops and lounges within certain distances from certain other uses “measured from the nearest property lines of each of the affected parcels.” The most restrictive setback requirement is for residential uses at 1,000 feet. 

Lustberg’s dispensary was the first to give the required notice to Riverhead Town’s government of a planned adult-use dispensary. Lustberg came to a meeting of the town committee created to regulate recreational marijuana sales to ask the town to change the residential use zoning requirement in the hopes the dispensary would be able to open. 

He said he chose not to pursue the process outlined in state regulations that allow the Cannabis Control Board to render an opinion as to whether a municipality’s local zoning is “unreasonably impracticable” under state law. Nothing in the regulations or state law gives power to the Office of Cannabis Management to annul the town’s local law, and a lawsuit would likely be required to compel the town to change its zoning.

The town did respond to Lustberg’s notice, received by the town Sept. 6, with a letter to Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Christopher Alexander on Sept. 29. The letter, authored by Community Development Director Dawn Thomas, outlines the town’s zoning and acknowledges changes are likely to come to its zoning laws. However, Thomas wrote, it is “unlikely” that the Ostrander Avenue location “would be included in any new zoning that could be adopted,” due to being within 50 feet of a single family residence and 350 feet from a large residential neighborhood.

“As such, the Town must object to the location proposed by the applicant,” the letter concludes.

Riverhead Town officials are in the process of revisiting the town’s zoning code for recreational marijuana businesses, after realizing the code was likely too restrictive. Town officials said during the last marijuana committee meeting that only five locations in the town — one of them being the municipal garage on Osborn Avenue — are viable locations for citing recreational marijuana businesses within the whole Town of Riverhead.

Lustberg said he intends to stay in the loop with what’s going on with the marijuana zoning in Riverhead and hopes the town changes the zoning to make it more friendly for the emerging industry. The town is one of four municipalities on Long Island that did not pass a local law opting out of the 2021 Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which legalized recreational cannabis and set the groundwork for the industry. 

Lustberg also spoke with Council Member Bob Kern, he said, about the possibility of putting together an event with the Long Island Cannabis Coalition to inform town officials about the industry. He said the event would be similar to the “opt in” events the industry advocacy group has hosted in municipalities across the region that initially opted out of having adult-use marijuana establishments.

“I just think something like that would be good in Riverhead because it seems like a lot of the town officials don’t want it, and I think if they saw a little bit of what the industry was like and the people who represent it, maybe they’d be a little more open to moving the ball with the residential restriction,” Lustberg said. “Because with that in place, I think it’s just going to be impossible for anybody to really find a property there.”

He also said he hopes the state Office of Cannabis Management eventually takes action on Long Island to come down on towns like Riverhead with restrictive zoning.

After the meeting at the beginning of September, Rothwell said the town marijuana committee will reconvene again as soon as town staff has a new parcel map prepared depicting different options for new restrictions. That meeting has not happened yet and has not been scheduled, according to the town government’s calendar. 

Rothwell did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this story.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: