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Williamstown Planning Board Hosts Wednesday Panel Discussion on Cannabis

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's effort to reach a consensus on regulations for cannabis production continues Wednesday evening with a panel discussion hosted by the Planning Board.
As part of the board's yearlong effort to develop a zoning bylaw amendment that might pass at this spring's annual town meeting, it has scheduled a virtual event titled "Marijuana Cultivation: Issues and Opportunities," for 7:30 p.m. on the Zoom virtual meeting platform.
The chair of the Planning Board in Sheffield will join two attorneys from KP Law and the CEO of EOS Farm, a large cannabis cultivator in Pittsfield, to talk about some of the considerations that Williamstown faces in developing a new pot bylaw.
The Planning Board last year tried to update the cannabis bylaw passed hurriedly by the town in 2017 in reaction to the 2016's statewide vote to decriminalize recreational marijuana. That bylaw, still in effect, allows marijuana production by special permit in three of the town's zoning districts.
But the 2017 bylaw, passed before the commonwealth's Cannabis Control Commission established a regulatory regime for the drug's production and sale in the state, is out of date. And the only special permit for production applied for under the 2017 bylaw showed that there were potential deficiencies in the local regulations, including the lack of special setbacks or requirements for screening.
The Planning Board attempted to draft an updated bylaw in 2019 for the 2020 annual town meeting. But after hearing feedback from opponents to outdoor cultivation — and no voices in support — the board ended up developing an amendment that disallowed commercial outdoor grows throughout town.
That prompted the town's Agricultural Commission to draft its own bylaw amendment, which did allow outdoor production, and place it on the town meeting warrant by way of citizens petition.
Both bylaws ended up generating support of the majority of the meeting, but neither achieved the two-thirds majority necessary for a zoning bylaw amendment.
This year, the Planning Board is giving it another try, actually, two tries. At its Nov. 10 meeting, the board discussed developing two separate bylaws for the 2021 annual town meeting; one would address the 2017 bylaw's anachronistic language, and the second would address the local regulatory issues.
"Last year, what happened was nothing got passed, and we missed out even passing language that would align our regulations with the state," Chair Stephanie Boyd told her colleagues at the November meeting. "[Town counsel] was suggesting one article that aligns the definitions and terms and stuff so, at least functionally, we have a bylaw. Then we could have the rules as a separate article."
The latter article, the rules piece, is where the majority of the discussion has taken place and promises to be the focus of Wednesday's panel discussion. It also is where the Planning Board's thinking has evolved to align with that of the Ag Commission.
Almost since the night the Planning Board finalized the language it would send to town meeting — a meeting that ended up being delayed from May to August due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the planners have been hearing from advocates for continuing to allow outdoor cannabis production. Local farmers and members of the Ag Commission itself have been regular contributors to Planning Board meetings, and at one point, the board considered looking into pulling its own bylaw amendment from the warrant and holding a new public hearing for a version that would have allowed and regulated outdoor grows.
This time around, the Planning Board is working on a draft that continues to allow outdoor production by special permit and creates more restrictive setbacks. It also is keeping language from its 2020 draft bylaw that would have created more regulation for indoor growing facilities, including odor control and mitigation from indoor grows.
The Planning Board also has asked the Agricultural Commission for its input during the drafting process in hopes that town meeting will not again have to deal with contradictory warrant articles.
Over the last few months, the Ag Commission has spent much of its time talking about the elements it would like to see in the bylaw that emerges from the Planning Board's deliberations. 
Last Wednesday, it decided to recommend that the Planning Board propose a bylaw that allows indoor growing facilities, by special permit, in two zones, Limited Industrial and Planned Business, and that it require indoor facilities to derive at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources.
The renewable energy provision was part of the Planning Board's proposal for August's annual town meeting and appears to have had general support from the majority of the planners in this year's discussion. As for the location of indoor grow facilities, the board this month agreed to keep those out of Planned Business (primarily the Main Street corridor) and restrict them to Limited Industrial (primarily the area around the Steinerfilm property off Simonds Road).
Last month, the Agricultural Commission agreed to push for a proposed bylaw that allows up to 100,000 square feet of outdoor cannabis cultivation — doubling the maximum that would have been allowed under the bylaw the commissioners drafted in the spring. And it decided to ask the Planning Board to draft a bylaw that establishes the town setback for outdoor grows at 75 feet from all property lines (and 500 feet from residences, as was written in the Ag Commission's August proposal).
In both those instances, Ag Commission members indicated that the numbers (100,000 square feet and 75 square feet) are "starting points."
"It gives us bargaining space," Darryl Lapinski said of the 75-foot setback. "If we start at 100, they'll want 125."
Likewise with the square footage of the cannabis grow canopy, the Ag Commission decided to push for 100,000, the highest allowable by the CCC, which would categorize a grow area that size as a Tier 11 license.
"We dropped [in the 2020 town meeting proposal] to Tier 6 somewhat arbitrarily," Brain Cole said at the Oct. 28 Ag Commission meeting. "We dropped to 1 acre because we thought it would garner more support, and it did not. It seemed like a lot of the opposition was around, essentially, any grow size that wasn't the smallest [allowed by the CCC].
"I'm happier to go to the largest tier. Also, based on what we learned from [Sheffield Select Board Chair Rene Wood] and [Sheffield grower Ted Dobson], I think having all the tiers as a possibility is important."

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Williamstown Watching Washington, Not Yet Fretting Impact on ARPA Funds

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town manager Friday was cautiously optimistic that a potential debt ceiling deal in Washington, D.C., that includes "claw back" provisions on American Rescue Plan Act funds would not impact the town's ability to utilize the remainder of $2.2 million in pandemic-related federal relief.
"I'm not especially concerned," Robert Menicocci said. "I always put an asterisk beside something like that when we talk about anything legislative. You never know until it's in ink, when it's signed by everyone — whether local, state or federal legislation."
The $350 billion ARPA passed in 2021 included funding for state and local governments. Williamstown's share works out to $2,222,073, according to the commonwealth's website.
A good deal of that money is already "out the door," spent on both direct COVID 19-related expenses and other items approved by the Select Board over the last couple of years.
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