NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board on Monday voted to recommend back to the City Council the proposed marijuana ordinance along with changes advised by the Public Safety Committee.
Chairman Michael Leary also suggested that the council refer the ordinance back to the Redevelopment Authority "so one side of Main Street is consistent to the other side of Main Street."
The rules promulgated by the ad hoc Retail Marijuana Working Group — including 500-foot setbacks from schools and day care centers — would not affect the urban renewal zones, one of which makes up the south side of Main Street all the way to the Oasis Plaza.
Mayor Thomas Bernard described Urban Renewal Zone 1 as an "area of complexity" because it was not clear if the plan under which it was formed in 1967 is still in effect. He told the City Council last week that it appears the plan expired in 2007, although a five-year extension may have been submitted to the state.
But though the plan expired, the zone that was formed under it is still in ordinance and under the control of the Redevelopment Authority. The authority is a separate governmental agency that regulates the two urban renewal zones.
"We have consulted with the state [Housing and Community Development] and the preliminary opinion says the ordinance remains in effect until the ordinance itself is changed," the mayor told the council last week.
There has been concern from some that the much-debated local marijuana regulations would be void in a large swath of the downtown. Should the authority adopt the ordinance, it would provide some consistency in how marijuana facilities are regulated in the city's main business zone. The facilities are prohibited in residential areas.
The Redevelopment Authority board is made up of Chairman Paul Hopkins, also city councilor, and Leary and Kyle Hanlon, both planners, and David Bond.
The Planning Board meeting followed a joint public hearing with the City Council that heard similar arguments expressed during prior meetings and hearings.
Wendy Penner, director of prevention for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, asked officials to prohibit marijuana retail in the downtown, saying the Routes 2 and 8 commercial corridors were better suited. Her concern has been creating a welcoming environment for marijuana that will position it as acceptable for use by the city's youth.
It is particularly troubling, Penner said, because early and chronic use of substances make youth much more open to addiction: "you can almost say that addiction is a pediatric disease."
"Let's anticipate that our youth are going to use it like alcohol," she said. "Zone with our youth in mind."
Ross Jacobs, on the other hand, said the taxes generated by the marijuana sales could benefit groups battling addictions. Jacobs, a member of the Zoning Board and the working group, said he agreed with the guidelines to be as close as possible to those of package stores. Tara Jacobs, a School Committee member, said she'd been to a marketing conference where an analysis on data derived from millions of legal pot purchases found the average consumer was in his or her 40s, had higher levels of education and sophisticated tastes.
"That's the kind of person we want to attract to our city," she said.
The boards recommended no changes other than those already brought up but the Public Safety Committee with the exception of adding in a comment the ordinance did not affect the urban renewal zones (a factor already discussed by the working group.) The changes included removing churches from the 500-foot setback and changing "child care facility" to "child care center."
A facility, the committee learned, referred to any day care, including home day care. The state's definition of an institutional day cares — such as preschools, or YMCAs — was to use the term "center."
The Rev. Dan Randall of New Hope Methodist Church asked how that would affect youth programs held in churches.
City Councilor Benjamin Lamb said the Planning Board would be able to make those determinations and would be able to look at the hours the programs operate. City Councilor Joshua Moran said the goal had been to align the ordinance similar to liquor regulations to give the Planning Board flexibility.
Penner asked if a map could be generated showing the 500-foot buffer zones.
Bernard's goal has been to have an ordinance in place by April 1, when the state begins accepting applications for retail marijuana facilities for production, processing, testing and sales.
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