North Adams Planners Do Not Recommend Recreation Marijuana Moratorium
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board voted unanimously to not recommend a recreational marijuana moratorium to the City Council after hearing no support from the council.
During a joint Planning Board and City Council public hearing Monday, the Planning Board heard from councilors and residents alike who were opposed to delaying a possible recreational marijuana facility from moving into the community.
"I think the more that we put ourselves behind all of those communities who are moving along with this, the less we will be able to benefit it from it in the long term," Council President Benjamin Lamb said. "This is an opportunity to try to catch up to where we should be."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the moratorium would freeze all recreational marijuana establishment applications and set in motion the process of crafting a city ordinance that would define setbacks, regulations and zoning to the city's standards instead of the yet to be released state's. He said he would hope to have something in front of the City Council to vote on in November of 2018 or when completed.
"In no way shape or form are we asking for anything but to slow the process down a little, so the city can have time collectedly to vet this and to make certain that locations are appropriate or as appropriate as the city would like to see them," Alcombright said.
Councilor Keith Bona said he did not think it would be difficult to get an ordinance on paper quickly and the city could follow what other communities have done or craft something like tobacco or alcohol regulations.
He said delaying the process for a year would only lessen the chances of a recreational distributor opening up in North Adams.
"I think by delaying it we would be saying we are opposed to it because my understanding is there will be only 75 licenses given out in the state for retail," Bona said. "By delaying it I think establishments will pop up around us and I just feel it won't cause us not to get any licenses."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she felt the city had plenty of time to create an ordinance but had failed to seize the opportunity.
"We had an opportunity to start really taking a look at it and I think we are really behind the eight ball," she said. "I have always said we could tax it and we could lose out on all of that. I think at this point we are trying to close the door when the horse already got out."
Councilors Joshua Moran and Wayne Wilkinson agreed with their fellow council members.
North Adams approved last year's Question 4 legalizing marijuana by 62 percent. As for the public who attended the hearing, few were in favor of the moratorium.
"I urge North Adams to go against this moratorium and look at it very much the same as tobacco or alcohol," Alexander Stewart, a student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said. "The opportunity is right, and I feel like with this moratorium would block the window of opportunity."
"The revenue from recreational and hopefully medical marijuana the city would generate is badly needed," said Councilor-elect Jason LaForest. "I think a shorter time may be reasonable, but I think a yearlong moratorium is not in the best interest of the city."
"I think the marijuana should go on the fast track," resident David Willette said. "Personally, I can say that it got me off of prescription painkillers and it would be a benefit to everyone else to have easier access to medical marijuana."
Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, feared that fast-tracking the process without the proper vetting and consideration of the communities' youth would only worsen the addiction epidemic in the community.
"I think it is important to keep the best interest of our youth in mind rather than push it through," she said, asking that city officials keep that in mind when considering zoning or a moratorium. "In my opinion, the short-sighted opportunities of financial gain may exist but what are the long-term costs?"
Alcombright also asked for the moratorium and feared not properly vetting the ordinance could allow establishments to move in near places where youth congregate where it could have a negative impact he said this may be against the city's wishes.
He added that he thought the city did not have to rely on this tax revenue.
"I would just say this, and this is probably more personal than professional, I have been here eight years and we have seen a lot of good things happen in the city of North Adams and some not so good," he said. "…I would just argue that this city can do better with respect to economic development than a retail marijuana shop."
Lynette Bond of the Planning Board said she did want to make sure the city did its due diligence but felt the board should side with what the public supported.
"I don't want to see this in any way rushed but I do see that the public is not supportive of the moratorium and I am in support of the public," she said. "But I want to make sure the city goes through the right process."
The Planning Board can only make a recommendation to the council, which would vote on the moratorium early next year under the new administration and with a new City Council.
At the regularly scheduled Planning Board meeting held immediately after the joint meeting, the board postponed a decision on a special permit change of use request from David Atwell who plans to open a package store at former Lopardo's Package Store property at 8 River St.
"Same idea really," he said. "Beer and wine only, cigarettes, lottery, snacks and clean it up and run it a little better than it has been in the past."
The Planning Board by policy won't approve a plan for a property with past outstanding taxes or without a payment plan. Atwell said he has yet to close on the purchase of the property but will return to the board when he has resolved the issue.
The Planning Board also took no action on a special permit request for new construction from Boon Properties LLC for the former BP gas station located on Eagle Street because representatives of Boon had no site plan in hand.
Boon looked to nix its plan of building a convenience store and restoring the gas tanks and just install the tanks and make improvements to the existing structure.
"I have to be blunt it is an eyesore so if you are saying you just want to put tanks into an eyesore I don't know if I can approve that," Chairman Michael Leary said. "You didn't bring us any plans and we do not know what it is going to look like ... we need to see some plans."
Clarification: Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, did not specifically speak in support of a moratorium but rather that officials keep youth in mind when they make any decisions related to retail marijuana. This was not clear in the original version of this article.
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