HARVARD -- Zoning for adult-entertainment and medical-marijuana districts are up for a vote at this year's town meeting, but only as a precaution.
The two zones would be located in the town's commercial "C" District, which runs along Ayer from the northern side of Route 2 to a limit just before the town boundary near Ayer.
The bylaw would legally limit the areas in which adult entertainment-businesses -- including bookstores, movie theaters and video stores -- can develop in town. Without this bylaw, these businesses could set up anywhere based on a Supreme Court ruling that declared adult-entertainment a form of free speech.
"In order to protect the town, the town could adapt an adult-entertainment bylaw which restricts it to a specific site or sites and requires special permits for that use," said planner William Scanlan.
The proposed bylaw forbids such entertainment from operating within 500 feet of certain areas of town, such as schools, residential areas and churches.
The bylaw would also prohibit businesses from displaying merchandise in areas that are visible to the outside public.
"This is just the sort of a thing that most Massachusetts towns do, so we're just trying to come up to speed on having that kind of protocol set, because some towns that haven't done it have had issues with it," said Planning Board Chairman Kara McGuire Minar.
Although the lawsuit was dismissed and the club later closed, one strip club owner sued the town of Tyngsboro for freedom of expression when the town did not allow nude dancing at his venue.
"I know it's a lot for people to grasp this kind of a thing, but it actually errs on the side of caution because without that bylaw defining where it could go in town, it could go anywhere and I think people should be aware of that," Minar said.
Meanwhile, the town's moratorium on medical marijuana expires this year. The one-year time window gave towns across the state to plan zoning and bylaws for any potential dispensary that might be approved. Again, this step is more about being prepared.
"I don't think we have that big of a concern for it right now because of the way the law is written and the number of facilities they're allowing," said Land Planner Liz Allard.
The medical marijuana bylaw also requires any dispensary to be at least 500 feet away from parks, playgrounds, religious buildings or child care centers. The dispensary can not exceed 10,000 square feet, and any proposed plan must include fencing, gates, alarms and other security measures.
The Planning Board sat before a nearly empty room at the Center on the Common on Wednesday, when the group was scheduled to open hearings on two districts. The hearings were postponed for next week, when there will also be a roundtable on the commercial district.
But the sight of Wednesday's turnout might mean a lack of concern -- the public might have been more interested in the repercussions of a proposed grocery store for the commercial district, a suggestion that did not make this year's warrant list.
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