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Williamstown Planning Board May Revive Outdoor Cultivation of Marijuana Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board may revive a proposal to create regulations to govern the outdoor cultivation of marijuana in town, the panel's chair told the Select Board on Monday night.
Stephanie Boyd was before the Select Board to present the draft bylaw amendments that the Planning Board has penned for possible inclusion on the annual town meeting warrant.
One of the articles brings the town's bylaw on non-conforming structures into compliance with the commonwealth's current law on the subject. Another creates a regulatory framework for long and common driveways.
The third deals with pot production.
The bylaw the Planning Board intends to take to the March 10 public hearing on all three proposals bans outdoor cultivation of cannabis in town and requires strict odor controls on any indoor production facility.
Those features appeared to be in response to the public comment the Planning Board received earlier this year and a series of well-attended Zoning Board of Appeals hearings last year when an applicant sought to create an indoor/outdoor grow facility on Blair Road.
But on Monday, Boyd told the Select Board that another body in town may push back on the idea of banning all outdoor marijuana growth.
"We had an Article D that would have addressed outdoor cultivation," Boyd said, referring to an earlier draft that created more restrictive setbacks and required native vegetative screening of the security fences required by the state for outdoor plantations.
"There has been some indication in the past week that the Agricultural Commission is interested in encouraging us to include that. They will be coming to the public hearing and may be asking us to re-include that article. If that is the case, we will be back here."
"Back here" to present another bylaw amendment to the Select Board to be referred back to the Planning Board for another public hearing.
As it stands now, there are just the three amendments on the table, and the only marijuana-related article proposed bans outdoor cultivation in all the town's zoning districts.
That is a change from the 2017 bylaw that passed overwhelmingly at town meeting 2017.
At that time, the town was reacting to the November 2016 passage of Question 4 in the commonwealth, which decriminalized pot for recreational use. Town officials wanted to get some land-use regulations on the books ahead of Beacon Hill's creation of a statewide regulatory framework, which ultimately emerged in 2018.
Discussions around the bylaw adopted by the town in 2017 focused largely on the questions of whether and where recreational pot could be sold in town.
There was some discussion about production at a March 2017 Planning Board meeting, but even that focused mainly on the possibility of indoor growing facilities.
"Is production usually done indoors?" Planner Anne McCallum asked Town Planner Andrew Groff at a March 3, 2017, meeting. "So we're not talking about fields of marijuana plants?"
"Yes," Groff replied in a meeting videotaped by the town's community access television station, WilliNet and available on its website. "It's restricted to secured facilities, and that's been the model in other states that have allowed this so far."
The 2017 discussion proceeded to focus on the indoor grow facilities.
"If I were to put up a hydroponic greenhouse and grow baby lettuce to sell at the farmers' market, people would applaud me," Planner Chris Winters said. "Everyone would applaud me. Glad to see you're making the most of your farm. What's the difference [with marijuana]?"
"I don't know if from the outside you could tell the difference [between an indoor marijuana facility and any other business]," then-Planning Board Chairman Chris Kapiloff said. "They're just these giant steel buildings with no windows … usually, by law, surrounded by a fence. They just take several acres, put it under the roof, have tons of lighting in there and grow 365 days a year."
"Realistically, I don't think you're going to be attracting these facilities to a [rural residential] zone," Groff advised the Planning Board at the March 2017 meeting. "That type of facility ... would need access to utilities and transportation. We don't have public water and natural gas in Rural Residence."
Ultimately, the bylaw adopted by 2017's annual town meeting allows pot production by special permit in three of the town's zones: Limited Industrial, Rural Residence 2 and Rural Residence 3.
There is no record of discussion of the kind of indoor-outdoor growing facility that was proposed by MassFlora last year.
To date, MassFlora is the only applicant to seek a special permit from the Williamstown ZBA. After that proposal was met with strong opposition from potential neighbors, MassFlora withdrew the application before the ZBA took action.
After that 2019 controversy and in response to the residents who addressed the Planning Board earlier this winter, the board decided to stop trying to craft more restrictive language for outdoor production and instead limit any marijuana production in town to indoor facilities.
Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Thomas told Boyd at Monday's meeting that he questions the wisdom of an outright ban.
"I know these are two-thirds votes, two-thirds super majorities [at town meeting] for these types of articles," Thomas said. "I assume it's a one-way street: We'll do these [bans] and they'll be on the books in perpetuity.
"The thing that makes me a little bit nervous about getting these things on the books now is I think it's early. The odor issue has gotten a lot of people concerned. But who has experience with it in Massachusetts? I don't. And I don't know that many people in the community do. … I just wonder if we know enough yet to restrain the opportunities to this level."
Boyd said the Planning Board had a draft bylaw that allowed outdoor cultivation under heavily regulated conditions but decided the town wanted an outright ban. But then she added that thinking could change.
"We had put a lot of constraints in our proposal for the outdoor facility," she said. "But, as I said, everybody who contacted us said they don't want outdoor production. It was hard for us as a committee to push that forward.
"Now, that may change when we have the public hearing and more people come. We have a bylaw [on outdoor production] ready to go if more people say they want to have that."

Tags: bylaws,   marijuana,   

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Stockbridge-Munsee Community Reclaims Some of Its History

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

A World War II-era mural of Ephraim Wiliams and Mohawk leader Theyanoguin is being removed from the Log to Special Collections as part of the college's examination of its history and relationship with the area and community.
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