WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After voting against the idea of delaying action on a pair of competing marijuana zoning bylaws and sending them back to the Planning Board, town meeting Tuesday voted down both proposals … and put the issue back in the lap of the Planning Board after all.
Williamstown's first recorded outdoor town meeting, held at Williams College's Weston Field athletic complex, started with the members facing conflicting bylaw amendments: one, proposed by the Planning Board, which would have placed tougher restrictions on indoor production of cannabis and eliminated outdoor cultivation in all the town's zoning districts and a second, drafted by the town's Agricultural Commission, which looked to continue to allow outdoor cultivation though with stricter controls than the 2017 bylaw enacted by town meeting.
To make matters a little more confusing, a bare majority of the Planning Board recommended passage of the Ag Commission's draft, which was placed on the town meeting warrant via citizen's petition.
And if that was not clear enough, both the Planning Board and the lone member of the Ag Commission to address the meeting recommended postponing any action on either amendment so that the two articles potentially could be reconciled for presentation at the 2021 annual town meeting.
That was the first vote on the issue, held after about 50 minutes of debate that focused less on the idea of postponement and more on the merits of the competing articles; Town Moderator Adam Filson encouraged debate on the amendments themselves before the meeting acted on the idea of referring the measures back to committee.
That delaying action failed on a vote of 162-130.
That then set the stage for decisions on both the Planning Board article, No. 33 on the warrant, and the Ag Commission article, No. 34.
Both articles ended up being amended before they went to a vote.
The former, which previously would have disallowed outdoor cultivation throughout the town, was amended to insert language allowing outdoor cultivation by special permit in two zoning districts — Rural Residence 2 and Rural Residence 3 — under a "microbusiness" model that allows only up to 5,000 square feet of growing area
The latter, which, as drafted would have allowed up to 50,000 square feet of growing "canopy," was similarly amended with the 5,000-square-foot limitation.
As with all zoning bylaws, either Article 33 or 34 — or both — would have needed a two-thirds majority for passage.
Instead, each was favored by a majority of town residents but not the needed two-thirds supermajority.
Article 33, the Planning Board's draft, received 156 yeas and 106 nays; it needed 175 affirmative votes for passage.
Article 34, the Ag Commission's version, garnered 122 yeas and 104 nays; it needed 151 yes votes.
That means that the Planning Board likely will have the issue on its plate for another year — albeit an abbreviated year if next year's annual town meeting is held in May, as is custom, and not delayed again by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was not the only setback for the Planning Board, which saw one of its other proposed bylaw amendments postponed. The board had proposed an amendment that created new rules for long and common driveways, but each proposal drew negative comments from the floor of the meeting and concerns that neither had received sufficient public comment in a year when the board's deliberations were dominated by discussions about the marijuana bylaw amendments.
On a "voice vote," Filson determined that a motion to delay the article passed. Actually, there were no true voice votes at the meeting. All votes were cast by holding either a red "no" or green "yes" voting card, but Filson determined there was a clear enough majority to postpone the article without ordering a formal count.
In fact, most of the articles at the nearly four-hour meeting passed by wide margins, and, as usual, much of the warrant was approved without comment.
But only a few measures appeared to be truly unanimous, and two of those came at the meeting's end, when the town approved the "Not In Our County" pledge and OK'd a second warrant article, titled "Equity," that requires the town to provide equity training to its employees and that all town boards and committees "reexamine and continue to create their policies and practices according to a commitment to accessible living."
Both articles appeared on the warrant by way of citizen's petition. They came after the killing of George Flloyd in May but before last week's revelation of allegations of discrimination and sexual assault in the Williamstown Police Department.
"This citizen's petition is an effort to support the work of the new Diversity, Inclusion, Race and Equity Committee set up by the Select Board,” Arlene Kirsch said in support of the Not In Our County warrant article. “In the wake of all the recent news, I'd think we'd all want to do that."
Speaking in favor of the Equity article, Huff Templeton explained that it could help the town move forward on issues of inclusion.
"This motion is about equity, but it's also about accountability and growth through training," Templeton said. "This is a motion that says: We want our government to act in a proactive way to invite different types of people, traditionally marginalized groups into our neighborhoods, into our communities. We will address systemic racism through education, and we expect all agents of the town to work toward this goal."
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