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Lee residents pass all Town Meeting articles, actions limit local marijuana-cultivation farms

Voters approved funds for a bike path and an obstacle/Ninja Warrior course.

Lee — Although some residents questioned a handful of items, Lee’s fiscal year 2025 operating budget of $22.8 million passed during the May 9 Town Meeting. That budget represents an increase of 5.22 percent year over year, given upticks in the costs of health care, retirement, energy, and education.

Monica Ryan, a Lee resident, questioned the Select Board about a sharp increase in the Conservation Committee’s fiscal year 2025 budget during the May 9 Town Meeting. Photo by Leslee Bassman.

Monica Ryan inquired about the large jump in the Conservation Commission’s budget from $5,350 to $11,850, with Town Administrator Christopher Brittain responding that the increase is due to the town employing the services of a shared agent to assist with the group’s duties. Cornelia Kalischer was among several Lee citizens who questioned the high cost of school district fees—at $11.2 million, an increase over last year’s $10.6 million allocation—given the declining number of local students. Superintendent of Schools Michael Richard replied that staff has been cut from the budget and grants have diminished.

Lee resident Cornelia Kalischer approaches the dais during the May 9 Town Meeting. Kalischer voiced several concerns including the high school district fees given the declining student enrollment. Photo by Leslee Bassman.

Kalischer also asked about weekend services attributable to the Animal Control budget, at $14,203.31, that fall under the purview of the Tri-Town Board of Health. Jim Wilusz, the department’s director, said a part-time animal-control officer is available on the weekends for calls related to domestic cats and dogs but not wild animals. Gail Ceresia voiced concern over the $61,103.00 budget for Sandy Beach and said that more funding should be allocated to weed removal as the weeds have impacted enjoyment of the area.

A discussion related to $5,050.71 of funding for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) ensued, with some residents advocating a disallowance due to a conflict between town representatives and the Rest of River Committee governed by the BRPC, with that committee now dissolved. However, officials, including Select Board member Sean Regnier, voiced support for passage of the article, stating that the group has aided in many facets of the community, including the town’s Master Plan.

The estimated tax impact of 3.25 percent was held down by projected new growth, local revenue, and $344,000 of surplus funds applied to lower the tax rate. Capital expenditures of $592,962 passed, funding ballistic vests and tasers for the police department, road paving and communications equipment for the fire and emergency medical services departments, among other items. Further appropriations were approved, including $250,000 for legal and technical services to advise the town on its efforts related to the Housatonic River remediation plan, with those funds derived from payments made by General Electric Company that created the waterway’s toxicity.

The Community Preservation Committee’s appropriations passed after questions arose surrounding $30,000 to fund the bike path design that has been delayed but will be completed with assistance from grant funds, as well as $80,000 to fund a skate-park expansion and create an obstacle or Ninja Warrior course. Residents and volunteers involved in the project defended it as benefitting both adult and youth recreation, and touting the project as a positive activity for young families, especially given the decline in school enrollment.

“Everybody knows I’m not an athlete, but I’m certainly a champion for sports,” said Kathy Hall, chair of the Lee Youth Commission. “It’s a community project. The people in the community will come together and build it. And that’s very exciting.” She said a similar event occurred to bring resident volunteers together to build the town’s toddler playground.

A Home Rule petition passed allowing Assistant Fire Chief Glenn M. Wilcox to stay in his position past the retirement age of 65 years old and until he reaches 70 years old.

Planning Board Chair Buck Donovan addressed the cannabis zoning amendment that passed, limiting the marijuana-cultivation licenses to a single farm. Prior bylaws allowed for 11 marijuana facilities in town without differentiating between the type of businesses permitted that could include all cultivation farms. Select Board Clerk Gordon Bailey initiated the amendment. He lives within a quarter mile of the town’s existing marijuana-cultivation farm, and attested to the odors emanating from the facility. “I don’t want to impose this smell—that they don’t seem to be able to regulate—on any other neighborhood in the town of Lee,” Bailey said. With five other permit categories still available to cannabis businesses in the town, the action closes the door on only more marijuana-cultivation facilities. Recent changes promulgated by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission gave less autonomy to municipalities to govern marijuana businesses within their borders through host community agreements that dictate the relationship between the town and the facility. Although the Commonwealth has a right to farm law, marijuana establishments don’t fall in this category, Bailey said in response to a question.

Lee Select Board Clerk Gordon Bailey (center) addresses questions about an article he pushed forward that decreased the number of marijuana-cultivation-facility permits in the town to one. Also pictured: Town Counsel Jeremiah Pollard (left) and Select Board Chair Bob Jones (right). Photo by Leslee Bassman.

Resident John Cody pushed back, telling the dais that he didn’t think the town should limit their options given some of the shuttered local businesses.

John Cody, a resident of Lee, responds to a proposal to decrease the number of marijuana-cultivation facilities in the town to one. He said he didn’t think the town should limit their options given the number of businesses that have closed. Photo by Leslee Bassman.

The existing cannabis farm will remain with the lone permit and, should that farm close, another farm could take its place within a business-zoned part of the town, Bailey told The Berkshire Edge following the meeting.

According to Town Counsel Jeremiah Pollard, under current regulations, any town can ban marijuana establishments entirely and cited Monterey as doing so.

The community voted to amend the town’s regulations governing accessory-dwelling units (ADUs), allowing an ADU attached to a home, such as an in-law apartment, to be used as a short-term rental, or a rental for less than 30 days, in the main building. Additionally, on a lot that has an ADU separate from the main building, that main building can’t be used for a short-term rental.

Before adjourning, residents passed the final article, affecting setback requirements on a town lot that has two different zones within its boundary, with the provision aimed at making “the Rural Business Zone more attractive to potential new businesses,” according to meeting documents.


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