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Voters at the Great Barrington Special Town Meeting August 6 hold yellow cards aloft to vote at a special town meeting that would have repealed the ban on single-use plastic water bottles, a ban that had been approved at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting. Yet another petition to repeal the ban will be before voters at Monday's Annual Town Meeting.

Of plastic water bottles, weed, Du Bois and zoning: Great Barrington annual town meeting preview

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By Sunday, May 5, 2019 News 2

Great Barrington — A proposed repeal of last year’s bylaw banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles, a resolution limiting the number of retail cannabis establishments and a proposal to rename the regional middle school after a civil rights leader headline this year’s Great Barrington annual town meeting.

And of course, there are spending packages to approve as well. Click here to see the warrant and the 28 articles that will be up for a vote at the ATM Monday, May 6, at 6 p.m. at the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District officials present the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget at a Feb. 28 meeting. From left: Business Administrator Sharon Harrison; Superintendent Peter Dillon; and School Committee members Steve Bannon, Andy Potter, Jason St. Peter and Sean Stephen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

By far the largest single spending item is the town’s contribution to the operations of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. Click here for a report on the district’s $28.4 million spending plan, a rise of 4.26 percent from last year. Great Barrington’s proposed share is a little more than $16.7 million. Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are the other two member towns.

Minus the education side, the proposed town budget itself will rise from $11.37 million to $11.55 million, for an increase of only 1.6 percent. Scroll to page 19 of the warrant to see a breakdown of the spending plan and click here for a full Edge report.

Shorty after it passed at last year’s ATM, a bylaw prohibiting the sale of single-use plastic water bottles of one liter or less was targeted for repeal. A petition forced another town meeting to consider a repeal but it failed by almost 100 votes.

Laura Keefner, opponent of the bottle ban, addressing the August special town meeting. Photo: David Scribner

The ban remains in place but is not being enforced until details concerning water refilling stations and funding can be worked out. A subsequent petition was submitted to the town to consider yet another repeal effort. That item is on the ATM warrant.

There is an advisory resolution from the selectboard asking whether voters would like to place an undetermined limit on the number of cannabis retailers that can operate in Great Barrington. There is currently only one, Theory Wellness, but four others are in the licensing phase.

A cannabis edibles manufacturer, Superfine Edibles, is also proposed for Crissey Road, but will not be a retail operation. Most of the talk among members of the selectboard has been to limit the number of retailers to five, the same number that have either opened or been proposed.

There are several zoning bylaw amendments proposed. Click here to view all. Strike-thru font indicates the portion of the existing bylaws that have been deleted and underlined text denotes additions to the bylaws. Those revisions to the zoning code are recommended by both the planning board, which generated them, and the selectboard.

One amendment changes the size and composition of the design advisory committee and another revises the definition of an accessory dwelling unit to include so-called “tiny houses.”

Another proposed amendment to the bylaws allows for greater diversity of housing in certain zoning areas, including the so-called Downtown Mixed-Use B-3 District. But perhaps the most substantial proposed bylaw changes are focused on Stockbridge Road and South Main Street.

For sale signs line Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington, where planners would like to see more ‘flexibility’ in the zoning code. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The amendment changes the uses permitted in the town’s business zones and to rezone parts of Stockbridge Road, the main commercial corridor north of downtown and one that is currently the site of several vacant storefronts.

Click here for a full report on that amendment affecting Stockbridge Road and see the video below of town planner Chris Rembold explaining the proposed zoning bylaw changes affecting the Stockbridge Road area to the selectboard on Feb. 11.

Not all of the amendments Rembold and planning board chairperson Brandee Nelson presented to the selectboard will be on the warrant. The planning board agreed to strike some of them. Check the list Rembold provided to The Edge.

Finally, also on the warrant is an item submitted by petition to change the name of Monument Valley Regional Middle School to W.E.B. DuBois Regional Middle School.

The petition, filed by town resident Tim Likarish, endorses the concept of renaming the middle school of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District after the legendary scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born and raised in Great Barrington. Click here to read an Edge story from when news of the controversial petition broke in February.

A drawing by Donna Drew depicting the Mason Library with a proposed statue of W. E. B. Du Bois on its lawn.

A similar proposal to rename the regional elementary school was floated some 15 years ago but it divided the community and took on a life of its own. In an incident that garnered much publicity, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee in 2004 declined to name after Du Bois one of the two new regional schools it had just built. The building was named instead after a small watercourse, the Muddy Brook, that runs behind the building on Monument Valley Road. The middle school across the street was named after the road.

The decision sparked outrage in the community, with one school committee member calling it a “media circus.” But, as the Du Bois Center’s website makes clear, “there are [or have been] at least five public schools named for Du Bois in multiple states, including California, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. His face and name twice appeared on United States postage stamps.”

The ATM will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, May 6. Only registered voters in Great Barrington are allowed to vote, though nonresidents may attend and they may speak at the discretion of town moderator Michael Wise. All voters are advised to arrive early to check in.

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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ed Abrahams says:

    It is important to understand what the advisory article on retail marijuana will and won’t do. It is a question to Town Meeting asking: Do the majority of voters want to consider limits at a future date. This vote will not impose any limits.

    Great Barrington regulates marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, and sales through zoning bylaws which require a 2/3 majority to pass. Last year Town Meeting voted in favor of the current marijuana by-laws which didn’t set limits on the number of marijuana businesses. In order to change those bylaws, state law requires a deliberative process that includes public hearings. Proposed changes can then be brought to Town Meeting and if passed, again by a 2/3 majority, become the new bylaw.

    Members of the Selectboard have been hearing from voters that they want to limit the number of retail establishments. We have also heard that the free market should decide and no limits should be imposed. This vote is simply a way to find out if enough voters want to consider limits to make the process worthwhile. If the answer is yes, the process for changing zoning bylaws will begin.

    Questions will have to be researched and addressed: What have other towns done (in states with a longer track record) and what have been the results? If there are no limits, will other types of retail stores be priced out of the downtown? If there are limits, will there be empty storefronts? How much additional business do we get from marijuana tourists? How much tax revenue will we give up if we limit? What are the costs (economic and social) of retail stores?

    Again, the Selectboard wants to know what Town Meeting wants. But zoning is complicated and often has unintended consequences which is why state law requires public input. Ultimately, Town Meeting will get to decide how many is too many but tomorrow’s vote is just a first step in the process.

    Please attend Town Meeting and vote.

    1. Terry Cowgill says:

      Thanks Ed for that detailed explanation.

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