PITTSFIELD -- The city's Community Development staff has reviewed a zoning proposal to deal with medical marijuana dispensaries, and is recommending loosening restrictions to allow them in or near the downtown area.
Commenting on a draft proposal prepared for Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and submitted for discussion, city planner C.J. Hoss said aspects of the draft would eliminate the downtown for possible facility sites. He notes that the draft included only "place-holder" figures and was expected to serve as a starting point.
"Based on the attached map that illustrates the draft zoning amendment," Hoss said in a memo to the Community Development Board, "medical marijuana facilities would not be allowed in the downtown area."
He added that a 1,000-foot buffer zone from any school or religious institution and a 500-foot buffer from any district zoned for residential use are the primary reasons dispensaries would be pushed out of downtown. General permit requirements for the facilities, for which state regulations are now being promulgated, are expected to be released by summer.
Hoss said the amendment draft would restrict dispensaries to just 5.6 percent of the city, "confined largely to Merrill Road, parts of Dalton Avenue, Hubbard Avenue, a small area off of Route 8 in the northern portion of the city, the commercial area in the southern portion of the city surrounding Route 7, the airport, and a small area off of Route 295 in the southwestern portion of the city."
The community development staff recommends "a balance that would allow medical marijuana facilities in the downtown area while removing the possibility of facilities in areas zoned [for limited industrial use] ... especially properties located in the vicinity of the airport," Hoss said, noting that those areas are not easily accessible.
The staff also recommends "removing most, if not all, of the tracking requirements proposed for those seeking registrations for cultivation, distribution or purchase of medical marijuana," Hoss said. Tracking those aspects could prove a burden for the special permitting granting authority, he said, and might conflict with the final state requirements for the facilities.
Those will be adopted following a public comment period, which ends in late April. The draft regulations proposed by the state Department of Public Health are posed online at www.mass.gov.
Dispensaries were approved in a ballot questions that passed overwhelmingly in the Nov. 6 election.
Hoss' memo lists several possible changes for city officials to consider. In brief, these include:
n Adopt the state requirement of a 500-foot buffer zone from schools but allow dispensaries in most of the industrial and commercial areas of the city except for those zoned for residential, neighborhood business or limited industrial use.
n Prohibit facilities in residential, limited industrial, or neighborhood business zones and don't allow them on a parcel within 100 feet from a residential zone. A 50-foot buffer also was suggested as possible to slightly expand the allowed area.
n Adopt a similar but less restrictive proposal that would prohibit facilities in residential, limited industrial and neighborhood business zones and require a building setback -- not measured from the parcel boundary itself -- of 100 feet from a residential zone.
Hoss also said that the special permit-granting authority would have discretion in weighing whether a location "is appropriate or not based on the potential impacts of the use."
He also recommends to the Community Development Board that it begin developing a zoning amendment on dispensaries as the best course to meet Bianchi's goal of having the amendment in place by late May.
The change would also require public hearings and approval by the City Council.
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