Great Barrington’s pot wars resolved and other tales from the floor

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By Wednesday, May 9 News  5 Comments
David Scribner
Town moderator Michael Wise starts Great Barrington's annual town meeting Monday (May 7), flanked by members of the selectboard and finance committee.

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.

Outgoing Great Barrington Planning Board member Jack Musgrove warned that a failure to approve the marijuana bylaw would mean that the town would revert to the bare-bones state regulations. Photo: David Scribner

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.”

Great Barrington Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton offered an amendment to the marijuana bylaw. Photo: David Scribner

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.

Great Barrington Planning Board member Jonathan Hankin. Photo: David Scribner

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.”

Great Barrington Planning Board member Malcolm Fick. Photo: David Scribner

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.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon reviews the district’s $28 million budget and Great Barrington’s share of it. Photo: David Scribner

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.

Town planner Chris Rembold goes over the proposal to rezone State Road. Photo: David Scribner

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:

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.


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5 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ed Abrahams says:

    Correction: the marijuana bylaw that passed sets a 200 foot buffer from schools, not 500. Also, it limits different types of facilities to different zones. There are some zones that don’t allow it at all.

  2. Terry Cowgill says:

    Hi Ed. Thanks for the comment. I understand that. The 500-foot number I quoted is from the state regs, which as you know is not the same as the bylaw passed on Monday. The point Jack and other members of the planning board were trying to make was that, in the absence of a local bylaw, all the town can fall back on was the state regs. And in terms of zoning, that 500-foot marker is about it. My recollection is the bylaw used the 200-foot zone because 500 would exclude much of Main Street.

    Also, I added a direct link to the amendment that passed. Anyone who wants to review it can do so by clicking here.

    1. Ed Abrahams says:

      Sorry. I misread it. Thanks.

  3. Jim Hall says:

    It sounds like there was a breakout of sanity, civility, and compromise. Nice job of reporting.

  4. John says:

    What a confusing message we are sending to our children. Yes it’s fine to smoke pot, but as soon as you get in the real world, you better not smoke pot. It’s illegal at the federal level. The majority of occupations prohibit it and there is random drug testing…. drive a truck, fly a plane, work with the federal government, work in any dangerous job…. continuous testing for drugs.

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