The Board of Selectmen had a fairly full house at last night’s meeting. And they got an earful from residents, most of whom were there to oppose the siting of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary at 255 Turnpike Road.
Selectmen agreed that the spot wasn’t the best choice. Still, they voted to issue a letter of non-opposition to the dispensary. The applicant, CommCan, will negotiate mitigating funds in lieu of taxes with the board.
Selectmen Paul Cimino deliberately kept an address out of his approval motion last night. Prior to the vote, the board solicited CommCan’s commitment to continue seeking a better site within the defined zone.
CEO Marc Rosenfeld confirmed that they had identified better options but were rejected by landlords reluctant to lease to a Medical Marijuana facility. Cimino said he would work with CommCan to try to urge landlords at more appropriate sites to reconsider.
Selectman Brian Shea cautioned that new sites may not be seen as better by everyone. He pointed out there are many residential streets close to Route 9 and the restricted zone. Calling their tax dollars just as green, he said their job was to look out for all residents, not just those on Clifford Street.
During public comment, Kevin Hoolahan of Clifford Street attempted to request the re-opening of the Town Warrant to revise the bylaw. Chair John Rooney told him it would have to wait until after the discussion.*
Seemingly aware of the draft article content, Rooney informed the public that a bylaw had been rejected at the 2013 Special Town Meeting. He said it happened after it became clear there was opposition to the 1,000 foot buffer. A bylaw with the 500 foot buffer was then approved at 2014 Annual Town meeting. [Editor’s Note: Technically, true – but not quite the real story. Scroll down to my notes at the bottom for more detail on what happened.**]
Before the vote or public comment, Selectmen listened to the applicant’s presentation and asked several questions. They also heard from Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus that he was comfortable with the applicant’s security plans.
Paulhus found that there was no crime reported around other dispensaries in the state. But he pointed out that the program is “in its infancy” with the first of four dispensaries having opened in July and the fourth opened very recently.
Later that night, the chief answered a question on officers’ ability to detect drivers under marijuana influence. While there is no breathalizer, officers have been trained in ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement. They also have a trained DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) who they can call out when needed.
Before a dispensary is opened residents will have chances to weigh in again in hearings for a permit (Zoning Board of Appeals) and site plan review (Planning Board). If the dispensary makes it all the way through the process, CommCan estimates opening doors in around 18-24 months.
Chair John Rooney warned CommCan to seriously look for another location:
You may think you have won the war. You haven’t. You’ve won perhapsa battle. And the neighborhood in which you are going to be locating this facility, there’s going to be multiple, multiple eyes on you.
Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said that in a private meeting with the applicant last week, she advised them that neighbors would be vocal and she didn’t believe it was an appropriate site. She suggested another site she believed was better, though admitting her neighbors wouldn’t like it. [Note: She seemed to be describing Middle Road off of Route 9 East.]
During public comment, the majority of a dozen speakers asked Selectmen not to provide the letter. Houlihan presented a petition in opposition with more than 400 signatures opposing the siting of a dispensary in the school area.
Some speakers pointed to the proximity to Neary or Trottier school as the most upsetting factor. But at least one Clifford Street resident admitted she was more concerned by the idea of marijauna users being in her neighborhood.
Objections last night included the following claims/concerns:
- Medical Marijuana ID cards are easy to obtain (not restricted to serious illnesses and don’t need to be from primary care physicians) and the product easily diverted
- If recreational marijuana use is approved in November, the medical dispensaries will be first to get licenses – state might dictate we have to allow recreational marijuana to be sold from that site.
- The extensive security regulations prove its a dangerous business – concerning to have that close to residences and schools
- The location isn’t what people had in mind when they approved zoning
- Undermines economic development image
- Deerfoot and Flagg roads are among the few routes customers leaving could take to cut through town. Concerned about drivers using product in the parking lot then heading down the narrow, windy streets past Trottier School.
- Evidence of increased crime in Denver near facilities. We should wait for more information on dispensaries in our state, not be a test case.
- We shouldn’t add to drugs in our community
Last night’s commenters did include a few in support. The landlord for the site, William Picardi of Deerfoot Road, told the public that he supports medical marijuana. He explained that his wife spent almost every day with a close family friend dying from cancer. Medical Marijuana had been her friend’s only relief during her last year.
Desiree Aselbekian lauded the democratic process behind approving the zoning. She urged selectmen to honor it. She and Cimino rebutted commenters who claimed they were mislead as to what was included in the zone at the time of the vote. They both referred to maps that were “everywhere” that night.
They also argued against residents’ comments that they had been rushed to support the measure that night. The Planning Board article was written and re-worked over several months, incorporating public feedback.
*Hoolahan didn’t re-present his request for a revised bylaw later in the meeting.
**Editor’s Note: I do need to point out that the commenters did have some valid points about what really led to the 2014 Town Meeting vote.
The article that failed in October 2013 did include 1,000 feet of buffer zones from schools, playgrounds, etc. But that didn’t appear to be the reason it failed.
In earlier drafts, the Planning Board worked to restrict the zone to areas further from residences. But while most of the public was quiet on the issue, the Board of Health and Medical Marijuana advocates strongly opposed the zoning as too restrictive.
As a Planning Board member (at the time), Cimino responded to BOH objections and negotiated a plan supported by both boards. Those negotiations led to a last minute change stripping out a 1,000 foot buffer from residential zones.
There were some at the Special Town Meeting who voiced the zoning was too restrictive. And as Aselbekian mentioned last, she was among those that worried that Industrial Park zoning was too isolated to be safe for dispensary customers. But there were others who argued that the zone included areas too close to residences.
The main issue that night was an accusation that the last minute changes were a “bait and switch”. Voters said they deserved more time to look at the plans.
Between then and the 2014 Annual Town Meeting, the Planning Board continued to hold hearings and to negotiate changes with the Board of Health.
At the 2014 Town Meeting, some residents again voiced concern about the zone being too close to homes. (While some objected to allowing dispensaries anywhere in town.) But voters were warned that failing to pass any restrictions would mean that dispensaries could be sited anywhere. They were urged to cast a vote that night or risk a dispensary being built in a neighborhood.