TOWN COUNCIL – PLANNING BOARD - OCTOBER 18, 2021
Town Council - Planning Board Agree on Marijuana Grower Control
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND — At a special joint meeting on Oct. 18, members of the Town Council and the Planning Board agreed to consider a zoning amendment that would require development plan reviews for medical marijuana growers seeking to open in the town. The regulatory measure was an alternative to proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would have prevented any new medical marijuana growers from opening in town.
There is currently one grower in town and an applicant has sought to open a second growing facility on Stilson Road. Marijuana retailers, or compassion centers, are prohibited throughout the town.
The discussion of prohibiting new marijuana growing facilities dates back to Feb. 2020, when the council approved regulations limiting growers to a few business and industrial zones.
In July, 2021, the council heard from local business owner Karl Wadensten, who, along with several other Stilson area businesses, opposed the Stilson Road grower’s application, citing the odor such a facility would generate in the neighborhood.
The council asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft amendments to the zoning ordinance that would prohibit medical marijuana-growing in all zoning districts.
After discussing the council’s apparent intention, the Planning Board proposed a joint board-council workshop to discuss the town’s options.
Planning Board Chairman Philip Damicis opened Monday’s joint meeting.
“So the council has proposed some amendments to the zoning ordinance,” he said. “The board has previously looked at this. Tonight, we are here to have somewhat of a workshop, if you will, with the Town Council, to see what their ideas are as to why they’re proposing these changes and hopefully, after that, the board can vote on an advisory opinion to the council.”
Damicis also asked why the town was asking the Planning Board to consider the issue again.
“We addressed this a while ago, and I think we were comfortable with the zoning ordinance the way it was, so we’re looking for some insight from the council as to why you’re proposing these changes,” he said.
Council member Richard Nassaney said the applicant for the Stilson Road growing facility had already applied for another growing operation in a building on Main Street, but had not moved forward with that application.
“I think this gentleman is just property-hopping, and hopes to find a property where he doesn’t actually have to build a building,” he said. “This property that’s on Stilson, there’s a building there and all he has to do is move all his stuff in there, so I see it to be kind of disingenuous where he says ‘we’re going to do this or we’re going to grow marijuana and also have an opportunity to grow vegetables or fruits or whatever’ so it’s a form of agriculture and all of a sudden when the price tag comes up, he goes ‘wait a second, I can do it over here.' So he’s just kind of searching around.”
Nassaney also noted that the Stilson Road property was next to several businesses, including VIBCO, which would be impacted by the odor from the marijuana plants.
“I don’t think that’s very fair, for this gentleman who has a property on Main Street that’s ready to go, and now he wants to put it next to a prominent business,” he said.
Damicis said that rather than amending the zoning ordinance to keep marijuana growers out, it would be more appropriate to mitigate the odor they produce.
“Basically, we should be addressing the odor problems rather than saying ‘let’s just zone this out of our town,’” he said.
Council President Nell Carpenter raised the issue of growers operating near a family home and reminded the board that marijuana-growing is prohibited in residential neighborhoods.
“Where this proposed location is that we’re discussing right now, next to VIBCO, is right across the street from a home,” she said. “…So although it is an industrial zone, there is a home in an industrial zone, right across the street.”
Damicis brought the discussion back to the proposed amendments.
“Not to cut you short, but the board isn’t here to do a development plan review of this particular property,” he told Carpenter. “As far as I know, we don’t have that before us for action tonight, so when you send us your recommendations for amendments to an ordinance, we can consider that particular property as one that may have issues, but we have to look at it from a standpoint of how does this ordinance affect all of the industrial, all the commercial, all the general business.”
Carpenter asked whether a grower could apply for a use variance to grow marijuana in a zone where it is prohibited, and Ellsworth replied what while variances were rarely approved, the applicant would have the right to ask.
Ellsworth reminded the council and board members that medical marijuana cultivation, including odor emitted from those facilities, is strictly regulated by the state, although enforcement was sometimes in question.
Damicis then proposed that rather than amend the zoning ordinance, the town require a development plan review which would consider every aspect of a proposed growing facility, including location, odors that might be emitted and water use.
“Development plan review is really our tool for evaluating the engineering and analyzing whether any development’s going to have an impact on the town,” he said. “We don’t have that tool in this particular case…Is there any way we could amend the zoning ordinance for the cultivation indoors of marijuana to say that it doesn’t matter if it’s in a zone where it’s permitted, you still have to go through development plan review.”
With council members and planning board members supporting Damicis’ proposal, both bodies agreed to vote against the proposed motion amending the zoning ordinance to prohibit all marijuana growing businesses and to approve a second motion for an ordinance amendment that would require development plan reviews for all marijuana- growing applications.