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Town Wants 2nd Look at Pot Zoning

November 30, 2018

WESTMINSTER -- An extended moratorium for recreational marijuana businesses through the end of May will allow the town to reconsider zoning for those establishments.

“It gives us five months to sit down and figure out how to regulate aspects of industrial and retail marijuana,” said Town Planner Stephen Wallace.

The moratorium was among 20 articles that voters considered at Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting at Westminster Elementary School.

Another article proposed prohibiting marijuana retailers was passed over by a 35-30 vote.

Joe Serio, owner of the Westminster Pharmacy, made the motion so that the town can take another look at allowing retail marijuana.

Westminster voted in favor of the 2016 state referendum that legalized recreational marijuana, he noted.

The town could benefit from the tax revenue collected from retail sales, Serio said.

“You might not be eligible down the road if you legislate it here in this town,” he said.

Selectmen Jim DeLisle and Wayne Walker recommended that voters approve the article instead of passing it over. Selectman Heather Billings supported passing it over because there is more information information available, like from the two retail stores that opened last week in Leicester and Northampton.

Initially, the board directed Wallace to draft regulations for industrial operations, which include cultivation, processing, and distribution.

Several residents, including Wachusett Brewing Company founder Ned LaFortune, said they thought the proposed bylaw would restrict businesses and agriculture.

Last month, LaFortune presented an “alternate draft” of the zoning to the Planning Board that would allow up to 10 industrial marijuana businesses in town, add outdoor cultivation, and add marijuana transporters as a type of business.

At that meeting, Wallace suggested that the board recommend extending Westminster’s moratorium so that more work could be done on marijuana regulations.

A meeting with the Planning Board, selectmen, Wallace and town counsel is in the works for early January to begin discussion about whether Westminster wants retail shops, where to put them, and how many of them to have, he said Thursday.

“These are the questions the policy makers will have to grapple with,” Wallace said.

The goal is for the group and other interested parties to develop a zoning bylaw that would be presented at the 2019 Spring Town Meeting in May.

At Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting, voters also approved transfers from free cash, including $1.5 million to the town’s General Stabilization Fund, $800,000 for the capital equipment and improvement fund, and $300,000 for the information technology and telecommunication fund.

Only one article -- authorization for selectmen to enter into a tax agreement with LSDP 14, LLC for a proposed 2.5-megawatt solar project on State Road East -- was defeated.

Voters approved the rest of the warrant including:

* Regulations for ground-mounted solar projects

* Cluster housing to be allowed without a permit

* Off-street parking for industrial and commercial uses

* Authorization for selectmen to acquire about 18 acres of land on Ellis Road for cemetery purposes.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz

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