AYER — Zoning regulations for marijuana establishments and future building developments on Park Street were set in stone on Monday night.
Local residents voted in favor of two articles during Special Town Meeting held at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School.
Though the meeting had a moderate turnout, both zoning bylaw amendments on the warrant were approved by two-thirds vote. The meeting was overseen by Town Moderator Thomas Horgan Jr. along with the town Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Robert Pontbriand.
The first article approved was the Marijuana Establishment Zoning Bylaw, which laid out the zoning provisions for non-retail marijuana businesses in Ayer.
The town currently permits only one retail marijuana business in town, which has been filled by the still in-development Gage Cannabis on Littleton Road.
Town Planner Mark Archambault said at the meeting that the new bylaw determines which zoning districts in town will be available for marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, testers, researchers and transportation facilities. With the approval, these non-retail facilities will be permitted in the General Business, Industrial and Light Industrial zoning districts.
Archambault noted that these establishments would need a provisional license or certificate of registration from the Cannabis Control Commission along with a Host Community Agreement with the town. Archambault said that this process would "weed out" the less-qualified candidates but will also allow the town to determine how these establishments would impact the surrounding community.
The establishments would have to have a 200-foot buffer between them and any residential districts or schools.
Marijuana cannot be purchased at any of these non-retail establishments and there can be no outdoor elements indicating the establishments deal in marijuana.
"This gives the town a much greater degree of control over how these operations take place," Archambault said. "There's a fair amount of vacant and underutilized industrial land."
When local resident Patrick Doyle asked whether or not this amendment makes it easier for marijuana businesses to enter Ayer, Town Council Mark Reich said it depended on how people felt about the establishments in general.
"If you reject the bylaw, that's not saying 'no,'" Reich said. "That's saying that it's open season. Other businesses understand regulatory process very well. Some even prefer having regulations in the towns they enter so they can better understand what they're coming in to."
The second article that received voter approval was the establishment of the Downtown Ayer/Park Street Form-Based Code district. This new district is defined by the town 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."
More specifically, the district lays out building development guidelines for Park Street to make future locations on the road have the same look and feel of Main Street.
Alan Manoian, the town's director of community and economic development, said last week that it will help Park Street grow into something as visitor-friendly and sustainable as the bustling Main Street. There was no discussion on the article as attendees immediately voted to approve it.
"I'm exceeding impressed with the citizens of Ayer," Manoian said after the meeting. "What this shows is when you engage with the public and afford them the time, which we did over the course of two years, this reinforces the fact that this is the people's code. They formulated it with us so they're comfortable. I've been doing Form-Base Code for 15 years and this is the first time I have had this happen in my professional career without discussion."
Jon Winkler: jwinkler @nashobavalleyvoice.com