Clarksburg proposing service zone to include recreational pot shops

Though nestled along the Vermont border, Clarksburg is in as prime a spot for recreational marijuana as any other Berkshire County town.

CLARKSBURG — Town officials were willing to see a recreational marijuana operation move into town, but there was just one problem.

There was no zone on the books for such a business.

So, the town has proposed an industrial service zone, which will be taken up by voters at a special town meeting Dec. 28 and would allow, within certain parameters, recreational marijuana business in Clarksburg.

Though nestled along the Vermont border, Clarksburg is in as prime a spot for recreational marijuana as any other Berkshire County town.

Slightly more than 53 percent of the town's voters approved of recreational marijuana in the 2016 general election.

"It is respecting the voters' wishes, [and] trying to support smart growth," Town Administrator Carl McKinneysaid.

The new industrial service zone would essentially limit retail sales to the small industrial area just north of Town Hall on River Road.

"That would be basically the only area in town, so we are trying to make it as innocuous as possible," McKinney said, noting its proximity to the Police Station at Town Hall that would allow for close oversight.

With support and funding through the District Local Technical Assistance program and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Clarksburg is poised to establish marijuana regulations without the use of a moratorium.

Clarksburg, a town with very little commercial tax base, is always looking for ways to rely less heavily on its residential property taxpayers, according to McKinney.

About 53 percent of the land in Clarksburg, which includes Clarksburg State Forest and Clarksburg State Park, is owned by the state, while some parcels are undevelopable for environmental or other reasons.

"We basically have about 37 percent of the usable town for a tax base," McKinney said. "We're a very small town. We're never going to get totally away from the property tax, but we have to identify and utilize other revenue streams."

The town can tax marijuana sales up to 3 percent, as well as negotiate a host agreement that includes annual payments to the town.

Though it will never be a manufacturing hub, the town does have tracts of land set aside for industrial use.

The problem is that "unless you're a manufacturer or a processor, there's not much you can do with those sites outside of that, and let's face it, we're in a postindustrial era," McKinney said.

"Obviously, we like the rural character of the town, but there are some sites that are not being efficiently used and used to a capacity that makes sense," he added.

So, the new proposal would create an industrial service zone that would allow for marijuana operations, as well as other service-based businesses.

"Hopefully, that will increase the activity and growth," McKinney said.

Clarksburg has identified areas for marijuana, but other towns are more cautious and will wait for the state to issue its regulations before making any decisions.

"It's all over the board," said Thomas Matuszko, assistant director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The special town meeting warrant also includes an article that creates a special permitting process for any licensed recreational marijuana retailer or manufacturer.

McKinney isn't certain that the town could experience a boost in marijuana-related tourism, and said that wasn't the purpose behind writing the new zoning bylaws. The town is aware of about 14 to 16 Airbnb rental properties, but it doesn't have a hotel.

"Heck, we don't even have a gas station," McKinney said.

Although Clarksburg is ahead of other towns in the regulatory process, McKinney said it wasn't motivated by a sense of competition.

"It's not a competition, and I don't look at it as such. I think we're doing it in a vacuum with what makes sense for Clarksburg," McKinney said.

Matuszko predicted that retailers, particularly, will be more likely to locate based on where they'll see the most traffic, not based on which town has its regulations in order first.

"I think that the business will locate based on business opportunity, not on town readiness," Matuszko said.

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