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Special Town Meeting supports 3 recreational-marijuana stores

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UPDATED, Dec. 6: A recommendation to control the roll-out of recreational marijuana stores to three in town starting next year was adopted by a Special Town Meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 5. The vote was 177-20-2.

Two amendments to restrict such stores were defeated, as was an effort to expand the number of outlets.

In a meeting that took one hour and 54 minutes, the session also approved:

-- a 3-percent recreational-marijuana excise tax, the highest allowable under state law (vote was 192-0-0);

-- $1.25 million for remodeling, reconstructing or making extraordinary repairs to the DPW Yard (180-9);

-- Measures to expand the Rainbow Commission (155-2), to affect an appointed town treasurer (181-4), to manage the Dollars for Scholars fund (170-0) and to support contracts for two unions, 680 and SEIU (190-0).

See how all members voted >>

The Special Town Meeting was held in December because the meeting had voted for a moratorium on recreational-marijuana outlets until Dec. 31, to give the town more time to work out rules, including zones where such shops are permitted. Read those proposed rules here >> 

They permit three outlets, one in each of the town's three business areas.

3 amendments offered

Former Town Meeting Moderator John Worden (8) and Lisa Reynolds (6) thought that was too many. They offered amendments seeking further limits.

Jon Gersh (18) thought it was too few. His amendment would have increased licenses.

Arlington, once considered a "dry" town from the 1880s, has loosened liquor laws since the 1970s, leading to a swell of restaurants since the 1990s. After 57 percent town voters favored recreational marijuana in 2016, the town will offer weed for sale in 2019, permitted by the state since July. No potential applicants have yet emerged.

The provisions of Article 2, brought by the Redevelopment Board (ARB), cover medical and recreational marijuana. A medical-marijuana outlet opened on Water Street in October

Andrew Bunnell, ARB chair, explained that the new rules are the result of work by the Marijuana Study Committee and his board. Representing a balance of interests, he said, they place 500-foot buffer zones around schools, and keep stores in business districts, not in residential areas. No consumption is allowed on store premises.

Arlington's density over five square miles makes such separation tough in reality, and the two proponents of limiting licenses used that in trying to make their cases.

Restrictions, expansion

Worden's motion would restrict outlets to not within 500 feet of day-care centers and pediatrician offices.

Gordon Jamieson (12) asked how many registered day-care centers in town, and Christine Bongiorno, town head of human services, said the state has licensed 30 in town. That number likely would limit outlets below three.

Reynolds's measure would restrict stores to industrial zones. She called marijuana sales "a wellness hazard for community" and asked that monetizing and marketing be addressed. The "act of opening shop where youth are is marketing," she said.

"In spirit of holiday season, may be a Bedford Falls than a Pottersville," she appealed, referring to the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." 

Gersh praised the work of the study committee before urging an expansion of licenses. To support his case, he urged the meeting to look at town voting numbers on the 2016 ballot question.

He said 17 of 21 precincts "decisively" supported approving recreational marijuana, including what he called super-majority backing in East Arlington. He said the meeting had a "moral obligation" to voters.

Members ask questions

In response to Ted Sharpe (7), Bunnell said at least three licenses would be available under Gersh amendment, but the other motions "would push them out of town entirely."

Andrew Fischer (6) said he supports regulated openings, but feared the town's ability to govern the process. The Select Board can't regulate nips, he said.

Debate ended on a vote of 160-21-1.

For the motions to amend, Gersh's failed, 47-151-0; Worden's, 25-174-0; and Reynolds's, 12-162-1.

The main motion passed, 177-20-2.

Town Yard explanations

To explain why the Town Yard on Grove Street needs a makeover, DPW Director Mike Rademacher said it had exceeded its useful life.

Help for the yard, which began in 2013 and continued with a feasibility study in 2016, is needed, as it was last renovated in the 1970s. The site offers special challenges, as it sits on hazardous waste, MWRA easements and the Mill Brook.

About twice a year, Rademacher said, the garage gets a foot of water when Mill Brook overflows.

A complete design for the yard, which dates to the early 1900s, is required. Current buildings do not meet code, need repair, have poor ventilation and lighting as well as inadequate room for employees.

He said that the area of the yard, estimated at 95,000 square feet, is likely to be reduced.

Ties to AHS rebuild

A rebuilt yard may include the town Facilities Department and IT, both now at the high school. Talks are underway about what nonschool facilities may have to move in the light of the high rebuild.

Also under discussion is possible access from AHS to Grove Street over the yard as well as DPW use of the Peirce practice filed for parking. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine has issued a memo laying out alternatives >> 

Patricia Worden (8) objected to paving over the practice field and asked that officials look into an inadequate culvert.

John Leonard (17) expressed hope that the paving would not have be done twice -- first for the yard project and then for the rebuild.

Chapdelaine agreed, but said the phasing of designs are not yet known.

"It makes no sense to spend so much on vehicles and have them out in elements," Fincom Chairman Allan Tosti said.

A final vote on the project is expected at next spring's Town Meeting.

Jamieson expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for public comment about the DPW project. The manager pointed out that the Permanent Town Building Committee, which would review the plans, meets every two weeks.,

The vote to end debate was 143-2, and the vote to support the meeting article was 180-9.

Read the warrant below as well as the link to the Redevelopment Board's report on marijuana zoning >>

Motions to amend Article 2 (Gersh, Worden, Reynolds) >>

Input on Article 2 from town planning and the Health Departnment

Read the Finance Committee report >>

Read the Capital Planning report >>

Read the Rainbow Commission report >>

Town website version of warrant

Oct. 26, 2018: Water St. medical-marijuana dispensary opens

This news announcement was published Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, and updated Dec. 6, to provide a full summary.

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