Retail Pot Sales Loom Large Ahead of Westford Zoning Forums
WESTMINSTER -- The Planning Board will sponsor two public forums on amending the town’s zoning ordinances, including deciding if residents want to allow sales of recreational marijuana, with the first one being held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Eloranta Room at the Forbush Library.
“Before we pass zoning amendments during Town Meeting, we go out of our way to solicit public feedback,” said town Planner Stephen Wallace. “We will then take all the comments and revise the amendments before we take it to Town Meeting in May. If people want a say in these issues, this is their chance.”
The second public forum will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Board of Selectmen’s meeting room at Town Hall. There are two amendments for options dealing with recreational marijuana that will be discussed at the forum, said Wallace.
The first option is a bylaw that regulates retail sales and would allow retailers to operate in the town’s industrial zoning districts if the applicant has entered into a host community agreement with the town and secured special permit/site-plan approval from the Planning Board, according to Wallace.
Retail pot establishments, he said, would be limited to 20 percent of the number of retail liquor licenses in town, or two recreational marijuana retailers.
The second option would be a bylaw to prohibit retail sales of recreational marijuana throughout town, said Wallace.
“The Planning Board is bringing both of these options to Town Meeting simply because there was no consensus from our elected policy makers regarding how to zone for retail sales of recreational marijuana,” said Wallace.
He also said it was “very important” that voters at Town Meeting, which will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, know they need to choose between the two options.
Otherwise, he said, if neither bylaw passes, retail marijuana sales will be considered just another type of retail business and will be allowed anywhere in town that allows retail sales, like in the commercial districts and village center.
The other marijuana-related zoning amendment would address industrial-scale marijuana facilities like growing, processing, testing and distribution.
This represents the town’s second attempt to craft a bylaw regulating the industrial uses for recreational marijuana, said Wallace, adding that such uses would be restricted to the town’s industrial zoning districts once an acceptable host agreement with the town and special permit/site plan is approved by the Planning Board.
The forums on Saturday and Tuesday will also address the town’s sign bylaw and the expansion of the Simplex Drive Industrial District.
Amending the sign bylaw, said Wallace, represents the last phase of the Planning Board’s three-phase project to overhaul the town’s 1970s zoning bylaw. The importance of preserving the town’s unique rural character was emphasized throughout the town’s 2014 Master Plan, according to Wallace.
One way to achieve this is to have a comprehensive and enforceable sign bylaw that ensures that new signs fit in with the character of the community, he said.
“Our current sign bylaw has not been revised since its initial adoption and is now woefully out of date,” he said.
The Simplex Drive bylaw change resulted from the owner of a 75-acre property with frontage on Simplex Drive who approached the town about the possibility of expanding the Simplex Drive industrial district to encompass 25 acres of land to the north, according to Wallace.
This would enable the property owner to build a 1,000,000-square-foot warehouse that could generate as much as a $1 million in new tax revenue for the town, he said.
“The town has been waiting for years to see this parcel of land developed for industrial purposes. This property has been the subject of a 2018 MassDevelopment Site Readiness grant that evaluated what infrastructure is needed in order for this property to be developed,” Wallace said, adding that the new industrial land does not have any frontage on nearby Overlook road and Beech Hill roads. All traffic from this development will utilize Simplex Drive for entry/exit.
To see the maps associated with the proposed amendments, visit the Planning Board’s page at www.westminster-ma.gov .
Wallace said residents with questions can contact the planning office by phone or e-mail, by sending the Planning Board written comments, or stopping by one of the meetings to provide feedback in person.
The Planning Board will hold its final public hearing on these zoning amendments 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 26 in room 222 in Town Hall.