AYER - Two high profile topics will come before residents when they convene in a special town meeting Monday: pot and downtown development,
Specifically, residents will be asked whether or not the town should amend its zoning bylaws on two different subjects: marijuana businesses and the rules of development downtown.
Special town meeting convenes at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Ayer Shirley Regional High School at 7 p.m. Each article requires two-thirds vote to be passed.
The first of the amendments involve adding a new section to the town zoning bylaws titled "Marijuana Establishment Zoning Bylaw." The Planning Board first recommended this amendment on April 23, followed by Board of Selectmen's recommendation on May 21. The new bylaw would permit state-licensed marijuana establishments, specifically non-retail facilities including cultivation and product manufacturing sites. The town approved allowing one retail marijuana store at its Town Meeting on October 23, 2017, though this new amendment would not increase that number.
The new bylaw states that these establishments would only be permitted in the Industrial, Light Industrial or General Business zoning districts. Potential marijuana establishments would also require site plan or special permit approval from the Planning Board along with a license from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
The bylaw also imposes a 200 foot buffer between any marijuana business along with residential zoning districts, public parks, schools and pre-schools. Any new marijuana establishments also must enter into a Host Community Agreement with the town approved by the Board of Selectmen, allowing Ayer to impose a reasonable community impact fee that would cover costs of increased policing, fire protection, and health and safety inspections.
Town Manager Robert Pontbriand said on Monday that he believes the research put into composing this amendment will impress voters and show the town taking steps to ensure the growing interest with marijuana businesses is handled properly.
"The town has had a lot of familiarity with the issues in medical and retail marijuana establishments," he said. "If we don't have any zoning bylaw, then there would be no level of regulation."
The second zoning bylaw amendment would involve deleting the Downtown Business zoning district and replacing it with the Form-Based Code zoning district.
The town defines this district as "a land development regulation that fosters predictable and a more traditional/walkable building and street development pattern and high-quality public spaces by using physical form, rather than separation of uses, as the main principle for the code."
Alan Manoian, director of community and economic development for the town, said on Tuesday that the code is meant to have future developments on Park Street have the same "character and harmony" as the condensed, classic function of buildings on Main Street. He went on to say the Form-Based Code would bring "traditional New England compact development" to Park Street, making the buildings "functionally relate to each other" and the street itself walkable for residents and visiting patrons. Manoian also sees the Form-Based Code as a way for the town to achieve a socially and economically sustainable development pattern for the sections of town.
"It's not how the street looks, it's how the street lives," Manoian said. "It's about the broader picture that the town needs to grow sustainably. You should want to linger and spend time downtown."
Pontbriand said that this bylaw should be well-received by the public and was meant to "provide future vision" to the town by turning Park Street into an "urban boulevard."
"Main Street has a very classic downtown look to it and Park Street was chosen to be an extension of that look," he said. "I think it'll make for some future development opportunities."
Jon Winkler: jwinkler@ nashobavalleyvoice.com