Planning Board Wrestles with Marijuana By-law

Board member Eileen Marum presented the Planning Board with a draft “Adult Use of Marijuana” by-law for its review Monday night, with the intention of getting the board’s approval to send the article to the fall town meeting. However, some board members took issue with elements of the draft, compelling the board to schedule a special meeting at the end of this week to finalize the draft.

In giving the public context for the by-law discussion, chairman Will Saltonstall reminded the board that the commonwealth legalized marijuana in 2014, with Marion approving the measure by 7 votes. Marion adopted a moratorium on the establishment of recreational marijuana businesses at the 2017 fall town meeting to give the state and the Board of Health time to work on their regulations. The moratorium expires in December of this year, and the Planning Board has been charged with developing a by-law for the 2018 fall town meeting.

Member Marum stated that she developed the by-law while referencing other town’s by-laws as well as following the commonwealth’s laws and regulations very closely, saying “This by-law meets the requirements – [it’s] pretty comprehensive. The definitions come directly from the state law.” Marum added that both town counsels are reviewing it.

Saltonstall provided the board with a color-coded map of the limited industrial zoning district, which is the area the by-law contemplates allowing the marijuana establishments, by special permit, to be located. Saltonstall sketched the map in an effort to show the extent of the area and lots that were available, after taking into account the 500′ setback from schools and the 300′ setback from residences, both of which are included in the draft by-law. The limited industrial district runs southeast from the old railway bed, east to route 6, and south to roughly Holmes Woods. A map is available on the town web site.

After confirming there are no other limited industrial areas in town, member Chris Collings observed that most of the available land appeared to be owned by Sippican Corporation, and he doubted this land would be sold for marijuana establishments. While other members said there was no point in speculating, he reiterated his point by saying, “We need to be careful we don’t create a rule that is not useable.” Member Andrew Daniel raised the same concern, describing the state’s square footage requirements for cultivating plants. Daniel also suggested the by-law expand the 500′ setback to include religious institutions, which may have Sunday schools. “I’d like [the marijuana establishments] to be allowed in the General Business district – [they] refer to them as package stores – that’s the argument. We need to do what the people want.” While Daniel was clear he didn’t agree with the town’s vote to allow the marijuana businesses, he cautioned, “I’m concerned we are hiding it in a corner” … adding later that marginalized business owners are at a disadvantage if the only area of opportunity is the limited industrial district. Collings concurred with this assessment saying “My radar is up – we are handing this opportunity to a handful of landowners. If I was a retail owner in town I’d be pissed.” Daniel proposed that the 300′ setback from residences be removed from the by-law, citing the preponderance of residences within 300′ of the general business zone. While it’s not in the state regulations, Marum placed it in the town by-law because of “security concerns.” Daniel suggested the board consider a marijuana overlay district, which would determine areas throughout the town that would meet the setback requirements.

Collings suggested that the town include in the by-law a schedule of services the town will be providing the businesses for which it could collect fees. He spoke with Town Administrator Paul Dawson who suggested that the language be explicitly stated in the by-law rather than leaving it to the host agreements created with each individual establishment.

Board member Norm Hills urged the board to finalize the by-law, remarking that “I don’t think it’s too restrictive. We need to get something on the books.” If there is no town by-law when the moratorium expires, the state will treat the town as if there are no regulations within the town for marijuana establishments.

Peter Campisano, a town resident, asked “Do we have a sense of what a majority of people in town [feel about] an outright ban and shouldn’t that inform the by-law?” Daniel pointed out that the town approved the state question by 7 votes and, therefore, must follow a two-step process to ban the establishments: vote on a town-wide ballot followed by a vote at town meeting. Collings added, “We are obligated to put the by-law together in a timeframe that will not leave the town exposed – they can happen simultaneously.” The board scheduled a special Planning Board meeting for Thursday, August 23 to finalize the draft in order to meet the deadline for a public hearing in September.

In other business, after Saltonstall recused himself, David Davignon of N. Douglas Schneider and Assoc. presented a preliminary subdivision application for a two-lot subdivision. The 3.6 acre lot, located at 213 Converse Road, extends east along the rear of lots on Beach Road. The owners are proposing to create a short cul-de-sac using a lot they purchased on Beach Road to create frontage for two new house lots. There is a house currently on the lot with frontage on Converse Road. The parcel had been subdivided by the previous landowners, creating a rear lot, which was subsequently dissolved and a covenant with the town required the owners to return to the planning board for any further subdivision of the lot.  Davignon is requesting a number of waivers for the development, including: a reduction in the radius of the cul-de-sac; a reduction in the setback for clearing near the wetlands at the east end of the property; a reduction in the setback of the proposed retention pond from neighboring homes; and a waiver from paving the proposed road or installing sidewalks. The board members agreed that the road needed to be paved, citing the issues the town has had with plowing gravel roads. Daniel suggested Davignon speak with the fire chief regarding the adequacy of the radius of the cul-de-sac. Hills asked that Davignon provide “ghost images” of adjacent homes so the board can determine the impact some of the proposed waivers and road will have on the abutters.

The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 7:00 pm. 

Marion Planning Board

By Sarah French Storer


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