NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A working group assigned to draft a retail marijuana ordinance will hear input on the proposal this week.
A public hearing is set for Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.
The draft ordinance was developed using state polices and wording similar to that of alcohol ordinances, as well as some of the aspects of Clarksburg's recently approved marijuana bylaw. A number of factors were discussed at last Wednesday's meeting but only a couple minor changes were made.
Mayor Thomas Bernard made the development of the ordinance a priority, creating the working group in his first weeks as mayor and informing the City Council he expected to have a draft presented to councilors in February.
The members of the committee are Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio, Board of Health Chairman and ambulance manager John Meaney Jr., Building Inspector William Meranti, Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas, City Councilor Jason LaForest, Planning Board and Redevelopment Authority member Kyle Hanlon, License Board member Peter Breen, Zoning Board of Appeals member Ross Jacobs, Annie Rodgers, and Carissa Sacherski, along with City Planner Larysa Bernstein and Christopher Gruba of Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The state is currently finalizing regulations and expects to begin issuing permits in June. The 2016 ballot question on legalizing recreational marijuana was passed by every community in the Berkshires, and by 62 percent in North Adams.
One of the modifications made last Wednesday was measuring the 500-foot setback from schools and facilities catering to children to also include outdoor areas where children congregate such as playgrounds or the skate park. The ordinance more specifically measured from building exteriors rather than property lines.
Another was to add a note stating any use in the Urban Renewal Zones would be by special permit of the Redevelopment Authority since that body has singular control over those zones.
The four recognized licensed marijuana establishments are cultivators, manufacturers, testing labs and retailers. There was some discussion that the limit of three LMEs in the city should be more flexible.
Jacobs thought giving the Planning Board the authority to issue by special permit rather than locking the number into the ordinance would offer more flexibility. If not that, then allowing three permits per LME type, or at least one each, would remove some "unnecessary regulatory hurdles."
"I'm arguing against making them anymore restrictive than they have to be," he said later in broaching the issue of micro business.
But he did not find much support, with the rest of the group leaning toward the draft as written.
"We're more likely to get cultivators in our area because it's cheaper by square footage," Breen said. "They're going to go where there's the lowest rent."
He advocated keeping the number at 50 percent of the number of licensed package liquor stores since.
"If we leave it at 50, let the dust settle and at some time the City Council revisit it and see if it's hurting or helping," Breen said.
With only 75 licenses being issued by the state at this point, Meranti thought the number was more than enough.
"Leaving it up to the Planning Board is harder than you think for them to say no," he added.
Cultivation and manufacturing facilities would be limited to I-2 and I-P zones, but sales and testing would be allowed in commercial zones and in three industrial zones. City Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, who attended the meeting, suggested that the establishments be allowed in the Urban Renewal Zones.
"It could be a footnote that any facility looking at those areas would have to go to the Redevelopment Authority," Meranti said. "We can't put it in an ordinance because the city has no control over the Redevelopment Authority."
Questions were also raised about traffic, security, the potential for odors to be released from manufacturing facilities and consumption in terms of one-day licenses.
Bernstein said many of those issues are covered by state law and that the Planning Board, or in some cases the ZBA, would be able to set conditions.
"There's going to be a site plan review, so the Zoning Board and the Planning Board will make sure that it's secure and they'll also have to have a security plan worked out with each organization," she said.
The working group also will accept written comments until noon on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Email all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring them to the Office of Community Development on the second floor of City Hall.
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