Community Character Issues Inform Orleans Warrant Articles

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Town Meeting

Election worker Susan Milton checks in voter Tom Conrad at May's annual town meeting on a new registration system. Officials are anticipating a speedier check-in at the Oct. 29 special town meeting.  CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS The selectmen voted last week, unanimously in most cases, to support the articles on the Oct. 29 special town meeting warrant. They were united in opposition to a citizen-petitioned article that would ban marijuana retail sales, but gave it a prominent position on the warrant before two marijuana-related articles proposed by the planning board.

That position was suggested at the outset of the selectmen's Sept. 19 meeting by Steve Bornemeier, a former planning board member who helped organize the petition drive for the ban. “There is a broad constituency in the town of Orleans who feel it is inconsistent with the character, tradition, and values of this town to permit marijuana retailers,” he said. Bornemeier asked that the article be moved up from the bottom of the warrant, the usual location for petitioned articles, “so it can be considered for open and democratic discussion with the other two articles advanced by the planning board.”

Because the petitioners are seeking a general bylaw amendment, the article did not have to go through the planning board's review process, which address the zoning bylaw. A public hearing will be held by selectmen on Oct. 3, but the board voted its unanimous disapproval last week.

The ban needs only a simple majority to pass, whereas the planning board's two zoning amendments require two-thirds approval. The board's first zoning amendment lays out definitions of a variety of uses related to marijuana sales and production and the zones in which they could occur, while the second allows small-scale cultivation in residential areas.

If the proposed ban fails to get a majority and the subsequent article to establish regulations for marijuana establishments fails also, “there are no limitations beyond what the state law allows,” Town Administrator John Kelly said. The town would still be able to negotiate host community agreements with businesses, Selectman Kevin Galligan noted.

Selectman David Currier said he's heard there may be an attempt to amend the planning board's first marijuana article to increase the cap of three on retail establishments. “It's the moderator's call,” said Kelly, who added that Town Counsel Michael Ford has advised the number cannot be increased at town meeting as that would be beyond the advertised scope of the article.

Town meeting will be asked another question about the character of their community, this one involving traditional services at erosion-plagued Nauset Beach. The selectmen are backing a $1.2 million plan that includes funds to demolish the administration building, rebuild the dune protecting the parking lot, and provide sheds for beach services and 30 portable toilet units, among other items.

“We would do the dune and leave the bathrooms and administration there,” Kelly said Sept. 12. “In the event they ran into peril over the winter, we would remove them with a smaller local project.”

The selectmen, meeting that day as park commissioners, wanted to know how long the rebuilt dune would last. “Unless there are historic storms, there should be a dune there in five years,” Kelly said, “not the same shape or size, but it will protect the parking lot.”

“I understand your concern,” said Leslie Fields, the town's dredging consultant from Woods Hole Group. “I can't guarantee (what) will be there in five years. If you don't do anything, the parking lot is at imminent risk this winter.”

On Sept. 19, Kelly and Finance Director Cathy Doane spoke at length about another article, an ambulance billing bylaw. They attempted to allay concerns that any changes would affect delivery of service.

“None of what we're doing here undermines the authority of the fire chief,” Kelly said. “It has nothing to do with day-to-day control of staff.” Chief Anthony Pike and Doane worked together on the bylaw, through which the board of selectmen will set fees in consultation with the chief.

“There is no limit,” Doane said. “Under no circumstances will the patient be denied services based on ability or inability to pay. Now the providers will no longer know who is able or unable to pay.”

Seventy-five percent of the town's transports are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, according to Doane, and the rest by private insurers. “Less than 4 percent of all our transports are patients without insurance,” she said. “The goal here is not to take a hard stand on trying to collect. The point was to put in place an active monitoring program to ensure we're collecting as much as we can...The point is not to go after individuals who qualify for hardship because of income level.”

An article related to qualifying the town as a Green Community was lopped off the draft warrant last week. The state certification requires that the town allow some renewable energy installations as of right, that is, without a special permit. The proposed article would have allowed solar voltaic installations as of right, but won't be needed as the town has already vaulted this hurdle. Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey checked with the state and found out Orleans had already received credit for allowing manufacture of solar panels and other renewables.

In organizing the warrant on Sept. 19, selectmen followed the suggestion of Chairman Alan McClennen to put articles requiring more than a simple majority at the top of the list.

“We should set it up so those articles that require a two-thirds (vote) for bonding or a zoning bylaw occur at the front end when everybody is there and fresh,” he said. “I had a conversation with the moderator yesterday. His intention is to start this meeting at 6:30, as soon as he has a quorum, and the town clerk will speed up the signing-in process. We also need to talk about any amendment process so the system is set up for it to come in a specified form so the town counsel and moderator don't have people huddling around the podium deciding what somebody said on the back of an envelope.”