Clarksburg voters agree to set boundaries for recreational marijuana sales

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CLARKSBURG — Voters have approved new recreational marijuana zoning regulations in this small, rural town with no gas station.

With amendments to proposed regulations coming from the floor at a special town meeting Thursday evening, voters agreed to limit recreational marijuana operations to the town's industrial zones.

The town approved recreational marijuana retail sales by special permit in an industrial-1 zone and an industrial-service zone.

The local regulations also carve out three other types of operations — a cultivator, manufacturer, or laboratory testing facility — that would also require a special permit, but be limited solely to the industrial-1 zone, a small industrial area on River Road near Town Hall that includes the RIBCO Supply contractor supply company. In all these cases, a special permit is required from the Planning Board.

The industrial-service zones, newly created with approval from voters Thursday and a potential location for a retail marijuana shop, are limited to the main arteries of the town and were previously industrial-1 zones. One is described as north of West Cross Road, west of Middle Road and west of River Road. The second is a parcel north of Cross Road and west of River Road.

The regulations were formulated and passed in preparation for the issuing of state licenses for recreational marijuana operations in 2018. A majority of voters in Clarksburg approved the ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in the 2016 election.

"It may not be perfect, but it's the best we can do right now, given the time frame we're looking at," Town Administrator Carl McKinney said of the proposal.

With a local bylaw in place, the town will be able to implement a 3 percent local tax on recreational marijuana. The town also has the right to negotiate a host agreement that includes annual payments from any marijuana business.

More than 50 percent of the town's land is either owned by the state — it controls Clarksburg State Forest and Clarksburg State Park — or is undevelopable. Local officials have argued that, in a town that recently turned down a school renovation project over financial concerns, there needs to be less reliance on residential property taxes and a larger tax base.

Any marijuana business would have to comply with state regulations, which are being drafted by the state's Cannabis Control Commission. The commission issued draft regulations last week.

The proposed local regulations, which were formulated with assistance from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, initially restricted all four types of recreational marijuana businesses to the town's industrial-1 zone on River Road.

But residents expressed concern that limiting a potential recreational marijuana retailer to the industrial area would discourage them from locating in Clarksburg.

"There's other spots" appropriate for retail marijuana, resident Jason Morin argued.

Chris Gruba, a senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said the feeling across the state is that "marijuana is unique, it's a drug, and it should be placed within the industrial zone district."

"The idea was to permit it, but not permit it everywhere," Gruba said, adding that it was up to town residents to determine where it should be allowed.

McKinney balked at including the town's commercial zones in the approved area for a retail operation, noting that the town planned on updating its commercial zones in the future.

"I'm a little concerned that if it goes into all of these other areas, there's going to be unforeseen issues that I don't know if we're prepared to deal with near residential areas," McKinney said.

Ultimately, voters agreed to expand the potential of retail marijuana shops into industrial service zones — which had only been created minutes earlier, via separate articles on the warrant.

The majority of the 10 articles voted on at Thursday's meeting were related to zoning, an area the town has looked to update and tackle as it faces expansion of renewable energy projects and the potential for recreational marijuana. It's part of a yearlong effort by town leaders to collaborate with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to address its zoning bylaws.

The town's zoning bylaws were last substantively updated in 1993 — before the development of cellphone towers, solar panels and legalization of marijuana, McKinney noted.

"Those things weren't around in 1993, so we're trying to change with the times," McKinney said.

The industrial-service zoning district was created to widen the use of what was previously zoned strictly for industrial purposes.

The goal behind creating the zone was to allow, by right, nonretail businesses like salons and banks to operate by-right in the more commercially developable areas of the town.

McKinney argued that industry would not be making a return to Clarksburg, but that the town needs to expand its tax base.

"This is diversifying the uses that would be permitted," McKinney said.

The new industrial-service zone was approved after an amendment on the floor to allow car repair businesses to operate in that zone.

As a bit of zoning housekeeping, voters also approved an article to update and align the town's zoning map with existing property boundaries, which Gruba described as "vague."

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-496-6376.


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