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Hearing on Shirley marijuana zoning set for Wednesday


SHIRLEY — When voters considered marijuana-related articles at Special Town Meeting last month, they rejected the first two, which would have banned recreational marijuana facilities in town.

By saying no to the bans, voters said yes to all recreational marijuana establishments allowed under state law, including retail shops, testing labs, distribution centers, farms and factories.

Later, with the passage of Article 4, the welcome mat virtually went up in smoke.

Now, thanks to a do-over the Planning Board has in the works, voters will get a second chance to get what they want.

An unintended consequence of Article 4, which created a bylaw specific to recreational marijuana facilities, was that it effectively ruled out most commercial and industrial zones where they could go.

The problem is a provision that requires the driveway of a marijuana establishment to be 500-feet from that of a school, day care center, playground, church or residence, to name a few places on the list .

When some voters balked at the buffer, the Planning Board, which forwarded the STM slate, promised to revisit the article if it passed, with an eye to presenting a revised version at Annual Town Meeting.

John Rounds, citing his experience with zoning issues, proposed amending the article but later urged people to pass it and he’s helping to re-frame it now. He came to the Planning Board’s recent workshop with a revised template and suggested amendments, joining board members and a couple of other residents at the table. Others in the room also provided input during discussion.

They started with the assumption that the setback rule was too restrictive, and when Chairman Sarah Widing displayed a map on screen to show how the big picture stacks up, it was easy to see why.

The map zeroed in on the few commercial and industrial zoned parcels in town – including an area on Great Road (Route 2A) and a couple elsewhere that are either swampy or spoken for. They all have homes nearby, including the industrial zone on Lancaster Road near Route 2, cited as the best bet for the purpose. It’s pretty much sold out now, resident Tim Hatch pointed out, but even if a usable spot opens up, it would be too close to a dwelling, according to the new bylaw standard.

The board set out to fix that by shortening the buffer, shrinking the list of off-limits abutters or both. In the end, they decided to scrap the 500-foot rule.

Member Janet Tice asked if they should keep it for schools. Consensus was that conditions on the ground, coupled with new and existing zoning laws were sufficient insurance against a pot shop moving in next door to either of the two school buildings in town.

Rounds said the rule as it stands closes to the door to any recreational marijuana business, even non-invasive species townspeople would prefer, such as labs, or other non-retail establishments.

Worried about whether the new and improved article would pass muster, second time around, Rounds said he wondered if he’d made a mistake advising people to vote for the original. Member Bill Oelfke basically said time was too short to look back. With the deadline for placing an article on the May 14 STM approaching, the board has scheduled a Public Hearing for Wednesday at 7 p.m., offering another chance for residents to weigh in before the re-do is finalized. Meantime, Widing is working on a draft with agreed-upon amendments incorporated.

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