ORLEANS — Voters should head to the Nauset Regional Middle School gym early on Monday, Oct. 29, if they want to be seated when the 26-article special town meeting begins. The session will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. if the required quorum of 200 is present.
That's not all that Town Moderator David Lyttle and Town Clerk Cynthia May will be doing to speed things up after May's lengthy annual town meeting. May said there'll be an additional electronic “poll pad” when voters sign in at registration, and Lyttle asked anyone thinking of offering an amendment not to wait until the meeting is under way.
“I strongly encourage you to bring it to (Town Administrator) John (Kelly's) office to be reviewed by (Town Counsel) Michael (Ford) prior to town meeting,” Lyttle told the public during the televised selectmen's meeting on Oct. 17. “Doing it the night of town meeting is not the appropriate time.”
In May, town meeting was held up for long stretches as the moderator and town counsel conferred on handwritten amendments brought forward when the related articles were called. For some, the scene resembled an old-fashioned silent movie without the benefits of title cards or piano accompaniment.
Monday's proceedings will probably be remembered as “the marijuana meeting.” There are three pot-related articles for citizens to weed through. The first is Article 6, a petitioned article that calls for a ban on retail sales but does not prohibit sales of medical marijuana. In May, town meeting rejected a ban on all marijuana establishments.
In a letter to The Cape Codder, petition signer Steve Bornemeier wrote that approval of the newly proposed ban “would have no effect on the legality of private marijuana use in Orleans, nor on medical marijuana, nor on other marijuana regulations covered in following articles, but it would prevent our town from permitting highly visible marijuana retail establishments, and thereby carelessly giving the impression that marijuana is endorsed by the town.”
Both the selectmen and the finance committee voted against the article, the former unanimously and the latter with two for and four opposed. At the Oct. 17 meeting, Selectman Kevin Galligan said the citizen petition didn't “respect the planning process” of multiple hearings and discussions that brought forth two planning board articles with regulations for the industry. “We played by the rules,” Bornemeier replied.
Lyttle said he has received calls from both sides of the issue requesting a secret ballot. As of Tuesday morning, he had not announced his decision. At the Oct. 17 meeting, Barry Alper said the “precedent was set a couple of years ago with the wastewater projects. Not to have a private vote would really prejudice the vote. I know people with positions one way or the other who don't want to stand up in front of town meeting and announce them.”
If the meeting approves Article 6, it will affect Article 7, a zoning bylaw amendment regulating marijuana establishments, in that it will eliminate retailers from the approved definitions in the subsequent article. The finance committee and selectmen support Article 7 as written unanimously, and also Article 8, which allows commercial cultivation of marijuana at less than 5,000 square feet in most of the town, including the residential district. The planning board wrestled with this article for some time, trying to balance respect for the town's small farms in residential areas with preservation of overall community character. The planning board is not recommending passage of Article 8, but felt it was important to let the town decide.
Two articles won't be finally decided until subsequent balloting at the polls on Nov. 6. Article 2 requests $713,000 to complete demolition of the closed Tri-Town Septage Facility. Article 5 seeks $1,200,000 for a segment of the Nauset Beach Retreat Master Plan and Facility Relocation project. The sum covers enhancement of the dune that's protecting the town parking lot and provides for temporary facilities, including portable toilets, for the upcoming summer season. If the articles are passed Monday, voters will be asked on Nov. 6 to approve the projects as debt exclusions from the tax levy limits of Proposition 2½.
At the Oct. 17 meeting, Kelly said that Eastham town meeting had voted that week to pay for its share of final demolition costs for the Tri-Town plant, with Brewster town meeting scheduled for a vote Dec. 3. “There'll be a notice to the contractor and the building will be removed by the end of winter,” Kelly said, “and the place set up so all regrading and seeding can be done in the spring, and the property returned to Orleans.”
Lyttle will step aside when Article 5 is called as his engineering firm, Ryder and Wilcox, has worked on the Nauset Beach project. John Kanaga will be sworn by the town clerk.
Kelly said the beach work will include demolition of the existing administration building only if necessary. “If it's a bad winter, we'll remove it,” he said. “Otherwise, we'll try to get another season out of it.”
Another big-ticket item is replacement of the town's water meters with cellular versions that can provide real-time information on usage and potential leaks and allow quarterly billing, the latter required by new state regulations. Although the selectmen support the $1.98 million expenditure unanimously, the finance committee voted 2-4 against, with some members saying there were other spending priorities at this time. On Oct. 17, Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen said the committee was “collecting additional information” and that “there may be a change” in its vote.
Most of the remaining articles are “housekeeping” matters, such as approval of collective bargaining agreements and budget adjustments. There may be a land acquisition up for a vote if the town can reach a resolution in time with the owners of the Hannah Meadow property near Nauset Spit.