Planning Board Sets Sept. 11 Hearing On Revised Marijuana Regs

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Marijuana

Orleans special town meeting votes to ban retail marijuana shops. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS In its search for the perfect blend of free market encouragement and community character protection, the planning board is rolling out two revised draft zoning bylaw amendments to regulate marijuana establishments. The first addresses all uses, while the second would amend the first to allow cultivation in residential areas.

At the board's Aug. 14 public hearing, members agreed by consensus on what elements should be in the draft town meeting articles for next month's hearing. Retail establishments would be capped at three rather than two, and there would be no limit on the number of other uses such as manufacturing, testing and cultivation. Several uses were removed from the Village Center zoning district, and members wanted “natural” screening for cultivation operations in the Residential district.

Town Counsel Michael Ford has recommended that the board hold a new public hearing on the revised drafts. That has been scheduled for Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.

Member Tom Johnson wanted to hold the line at two retail establishments. “This new industry is based on a product that was illegal before,” he said. “I think it's a matter of maintaining the character of our town.”

Member Debra Oakes rejected an “arbitrary cap...It seems to me with more competition we have a better chance of having a better quality business rather than being stuck with the first two who happen to come up.” She said she'd be comfortable with four licenses.

Johnson observed that “competition doesn't end at the border of Orleans” and that there would be similar establishments in neighboring towns. “My favorite liquor store is not in Orleans,” he said. If one of the two establishments “is weak,” he said, “the market will take care of that.”

“I don't want Orleans to become the marijuana center of Cape Cod,” member Chet Crabtree declared. He was comfortable with two licenses but said he could consider a third. Member Dick Hartmann noted the many steps required for a license, including a host community agreement negotiated with the selectmen. “Just because we allow four doesn't mean (selectmen) have to (grant all of them),” he said. “Maybe we give them a larger net to fish with.”

When the board discussed what businesses should be allowed in which zoning districts, member Brian Sosner suggested removing craft marijuana cooperatives and marijuana microbusinesses from the Village Center district. “If you want to engage in those activities, which is fine,” he said, “we're providing ample room to do it in the Limited Business, General Business, and Industrial areas. Manufacturing and processing shouldn't be in the village center.”

The planning board “for more than 10 years has spent a high percentage of time working on improvement of the village center,” Crabtree said. “It's an area we've protected and nourished...We're careful about what we've entertained there. It's not that they're forever forbidden; we just want to proceed carefully.”

In the end, the two uses cited by Sosner plus product manufacturer and transporter were not included in the Village Center district.

With the draft of the main zoning bylaw amendment article in hand, the board turned to the second, which would amend the main article by allowing cultivation of less than 5,000 square feet in most districts, including Residential.

Board chair Andrea Reed said she was concerned about “the impact on neighbors from an aesthetics point of view. We need to send something forward that in our judgment does that.”

While the main bylaw states that the zoning board of appeals cannot issue a special permit for a marijuana establishment unless it finds that it addresses “any environmental, visual, noise, odor, traffic, or economic impact on abutters,” according to the draft, Reed noted that “what we don't have is the aesthetics.”

Pointing to existing town regulations, Reed said, “When we screen commercial dumpsters, you have a choice, landscaping or fencing. In residential neighborhoods, (we should) make it very clear that there's some kind of landscaping screening plan...If we specify landscape screening, we'll keep the character of this town.”

As Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey condensed the board's recommendations on paper, another type of condensation started dripping on the pages from an overhead air conditioner unit. Drop by drop, the board, the selectmen, and members of the general public are coming together on articles they hope will be the (Acapulco?) gold standard for regulation of marijuana establishments.