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GREAT BARRINGTON — Voters this month rebuffed efforts to limit the number of retail marijuana stores in town.

At a special town meeting Sept. 15, voters said "no" to the Planning Board's attempt to limit the number of retail cannabis stores to seven. It's a decision that pleases town officials and others who think the free market should regulate what kinds of stores, and how many, open shop in town.

During the meeting, held at the Monument Mountain Regional High School parking lot, voters also shot down amendments that tried to limit stores to five and create a wider berth between the stores and existing schools.

While darkness and cold bumped the remaining seven articles out of 32 to annual town meeting in May, residents did approve a number of zoning changes, including one that would allow more units per square footage for more energy-efficient and compact subdivisions.

And in what town officials see as a victory for more housing that is affordable and could lead to starter-home equity, voters approved a change that would make it easier to build accessory dwelling units on existing property.

And residents also agreed to replace the biannual real estate tax payment schedule with a quarterly payment system.

It is the fast-growing cannabis industry that residents and town officials have eyed for signs of trouble, despite healthy tax and fee revenues delivered to town coffers since the first store opened in January 2019.

The second store opened in September, and the town so far has signed four more contracts with businesses in various stages of permitting. A fifth is on the way.

But, voters at annual town meeting in 2018 said they would like to set limits on retail pot. The Planning Board, historically against restrictions that curate certain kinds of businesses, decided to set a limit at seven this year — the same number as liquor licenses.

"We were more, 'Let the market decide,'" said Brandee Nelson, Planning Board chairwoman. "Then we said, 'If people in town voted to have some sort of limit, let's set some sort of reasonable limit."

Kate Burke, a Select Board member on the board's cannabis committee along with board Vice President Ed Abrahams, said she doesn't want the town to stake itself as anti-commerce. She also said that trying to limit pot permits, as with liquor licenses, could make them a commodity and lock out those without deep pockets.

"It's one of these things that I've always been really torn about," she said. "Many feel strongly that we should just let the market decide."

Abrahams is one of them. Amid a pandemic-shaken economy, he said, the town shouldn't be restricting any business.

"Nothing is worse for the downtown than empty stores," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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