Great Barrington’s pot wars resolved and other tales from the floorMore Info
Great Barrington — With all the hubbub over the success of the citizens’ petition to ban single-use plastic water bottles, it’s easy to lose track of the rest of the items approved at Monday’s annual town meeting.
But the battle over which town board would hold sway over any proposed recreational marijuana facilities was finally settled, and both the town and school district budgets passed and—in the case of the town side—taxpayers actually demanded it be increased over what the selectmen and finance committee had put before the meeting.
Click here to see the 27 articles on the warrant including the proposal for how to zone the cannabis facilities, which begins on page 21.
The battle royale involved the planning and select boards. For weeks, the two panels had been at odds over which should be the special-permit-granting authority and whether most, if not all, of the facilities should require a special permit.
The planning board, under the guidance of town planner Chris Rembold, has spent the better part of a year crafting a set of regulations to deal with the sale of recreational marijuana. Click here to see the final version that the planning board approved in February. The current bylaw regulates only medical marijuana, which was approved by voters statewide in 2013.
Outgoing planning board member Jack Musgrove moved that the item be adopted but, as planned, the selectmen proposed an amendment, articulated by outgoing Chairman Sean Stanton. Click here to read the amendment.
Stanton proposed that the facilities all be built with a special permit, a process that would give the town greater say in whether they should be built and where. The planning board wanted to allow the facilities to be built by-right in some zones, a situation Stanton had earlier likened to the “wild west.”
Stanton’s argument was that marijuana cultivation operations involve more than just land use issues, which are the planning board’s bailiwick. Rather, he said, cannabis growing and even retail operations also involve matters of economic development, health and public safety.
Such a wide variety of issues is better suited to the selectboard, he said. In addition, Stanton and most of his fellow members insisted that the selectboard is a higher-profile body whose meetings are broadcast on CTSB and attract more extensive media coverage.
Longtime planning board member Jonathan Hankin has said his board “was being bullied by the selectboard,” while Malcolm Fick, Hankin’s colleague on the board, said he thought the selectboard was reluctant to compromise and characterized the dispute as “really a question of checks and balances and a division of labor in the town.”
At Monday’s town meeting, Stanton was the only selectman to speak about the issue but Hankin, Fick and Musgrove emphasized repeatedly that, if the zoning bylaw was not passed in some form, then a cannabis applicant would only have to adhere to the state regulations. That point of view united both boards.
Click here to read the final regulations filed by state cannabis regulators with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. But the consensus among both boards was that if only the state regs applied, the only major zoning obstacle to its development would be that a cannabis facility could not be situated 500 feet or fewer from a school.
“I’d like to point out, Mister Moderator, that tonight we must approve something or we lose all local control,” Musgrove said to town moderator Michael Wise. “I believe there is going to be an amendment proposed by others and whichever gets on the town floor for a vote, it must be approved … or we lose all local control.”
See video below of the discussion and vote on the marijuana bylaw. Fast forward to 3:00 to hear Stanton read the amendment proposed by the selectboard:
On the end, the selectmen’s amendment passed by a margin of 182-101.
Remarkably, the $16.15 million charge for Great Barrington’s assessment for the operating and capital budgets of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, often a bone of contention, passed with only minimal opposition.
Selectman Dan Bailly urged taxpayers to vote against the appropriation for the school district, arguing for greater restraint on spending and reform at the state level. Main Street resident Patrick Fennell complained about the resulting tax increases but to no avail.
Great Barrington’s contribution to the regional school district passed last year. But in 2016, it failed for the first time in almost 20 years. Not this time, however. It passed by acclamation.
The surprise was the town’s own operating budget, which had been the subject of trimming by a thousand cuts during the deliberation process with the selectboard and finance committee earlier this year.
Click here to view the $11.3 million spending plan prepared by town manager Jennifer Tabakin, the selectboard and the finance committee. With a 2.1 percent increase over last year, the spending package will result in a tax rate of $16.18 per thousand, though that will change slightly because, miraculously, several members of the audience pleaded instead that certain cuts be restored.
One by one, impassioned supporters of various departments offered amendments to restore previous cuts. They passed. Among them: $5,000 for the parking enforcement officer; $10,000 for parks and recreation; and almost $11,000 for the libraries.
Also passing was a proposal to rezone State Road, that section of routes 7 and 23 that stretches from the so-called Brown Bridge to the traffic light at Belcher Square where Route 23 East breaks with Route 7.
Currently State Road is zoned for general business. That means residential structures such as homes and apartments are either out of compliance with the zoning bylaws or their use is restricted.
Eight items were also on the warrant relating to grants totalling $513,626 to the town and various organizations from the Community Preservation Act.
Here are the grants along with links to applications providing more details:
- Affordable housing trust fund: rehab and/or downpayment assistance – $100,000;
- Town Hall steps restoration project – $120,000;
- Clinton Church Restoration – $100,000;
- Old Route 7 Greenway Phase 1 – $25,000;
- Lake Mansfield accessible loop trail – $15,000;
- McAllister wildlife refuge project – $18,950;
- HVA: Housatonic River access project – $19,676; and
- Great Barrington Land Conservancy: construction of trail – $115,000.
One of homeless man David Magadini’s petition articles failed. It was a resolution declaring that the town would affirm the principle that “homeless persons are entitled to equal civil rights with other groups designated as protected classes to prevent discrimination against them under existing laws and regulations of the state.” His other article resolved “that discrimination based on political activity is a threat to democracy.” It passed.