SHEFFIELD — Three contenders for two seats on the Planning Board are navigating an election year in which the cannabis industry has stirred passions across town, and the board in March stopped the plans of two growers.
Incumbent Caitlin Marsden McNeill is running for a second, three-year term. Challengers are Robert “Robbie” Cooper and Sam Stolzar.
Town elections will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, at the senior center, 25 Cook Road.
All the candidates are 37, and have young children and careers.
McNeill said that the Planning Board is crucial to a town with extensive agricultural land in which the preservation of rural “New England charm” has to be balanced with businesses and development.
“How to develop with integrity and intention rather than suburban sprawl,” she said. “How do we foster and encourage new business and a vibrant economic base?”
McNeill is not only interested in scrutinizing the pot industry, but she is looking to the next incursion — communications companies looking to install 5G broadband cellular systems, and is working on those regulations now for a town vote in July. She says she also is passionate about board meetings being accessible to the public.
Cooper said his interest in running for a seat is not specifically a reaction to recent controversies around pot growers, though he, too, wants solid regulating there.
“I don’t want to take a rigid approach to pot,” he said. “I want to look at it more objectively. I think the industry could be good for the region, but I don’t think there should be an open door.”
He says he feels strongly that the town needs affordable housing for young families, and businesses that cater to younger people. He says he is “pro-business.” And since he plans to remain in Sheffield and raise a family, he generally wants “some input into what goes on.”
Stolzar said virtual meetings during the coronavirus pandemic made it possible for him to participate. His opposition to two pot growers seeking permits in a family neighborhood in Ashley Falls is what inspired him to run, since the industry will continue seeking permits in Sheffield.
“People in the industry are saying that Sheffield is going to be the epicenter of growing in Massachusetts,” he said.
Noting a new location sought by one grower whose permit was rejected by the board, Stolzar said it’s hard to find a place remote enough that “won’t make people upset.”
“I don’t think it matters where [the grower] decides to put it,” he said. “Growing cannabis has an effect on an area.”
Stolzar also says he is less inclined to object to pot retailers in a commercial district, and that he is working with a citizens group that is revising cannabis bylaws for a June 7 townwide vote.
He, too, says it’s not just the cannabis industry he wants to see reasonably regulated, but all industry.
“There’s a difference between outrageous growth and smart growth,” he said.
Uncontested seats on the ballot are incumbents William F. Tighe (moderator, one year), Rene C. Wood (Select Board, three years) and Martin C. Mitsoff (library trustee, three years).