Effort to ban outdoor pot farms in Cheshire shot down at town meeting

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CHESHIRE — A divided annual town meeting has defeated a measure to ban outdoor marijuana farms in town that likely faced rejection by the state attorney general.

Voters on Monday night were deadlocked, 43-43, regarding a citizen-sponsored general bylaw prohibiting open-air commercial cultivation of cannabis. The tie vote in essence defeated the proposal town officials expected would be dead on arrival when it reached the AG's Office.

Cheshire's town counsel Ed St. John III, father of Town Administrator Ed St. John IV, said regulating outdoor marijuana facilities requires an amendment to the town's zoning regulation that town meeting voters approved a year ago. Since the AG has the final say on the legal validity of local bylaws, St. John III, citing court cases and previous AG rulings, said the AG's Office would likely reject a general bylaw trying to regulate marijuana projects.

Several voters for and against the bylaw said it at least sends a message to town planners that the current zoning doesn't adequately address all aspects of growing pot for recreational and/or medical use.

Bylaw proponents feared outdoor marijuana cultivation would create an unacceptable odor from the plants and negatively impact the overall public heath and safety of the town.

"I'm just trying to protect the people of the town," said Justin Krusznya, a leading sponsor of the bylaw. "I love bacon, but I don't want to live next to a pig farm."

Other voters opposed to the bylaw felt it went too far and would restrict an individual's state right to grow marijuana in their home.

"[This bylaw] takes a sledge hammer to a mosquito bite of a problem," said Terry Miller.

While several retail and cultivation marijuana businesses have been talked about in town, town officials have yet to receive — let alone consider approving — pot-related projects.

The marijuana bylaw discussion capped a nearly four-hour gathering at the former Cheshire Elementary School, where debate over the $6.26 million for fiscal 2020 dominated about half the meeting.

Despite some minor adjustments to several line items, voters basically approved the spending plan as presented. The bulk of the budget discussion centered around the $22,724 salary for a new, part-time Council on Aging coordinator.

Town officials said the COA "needs a real leader" to make sure Cheshire seniors are aware of and have access to programs and services available to them. Currently, St. John IV said, three times as many Cheshire seniors go to the Adams COA for assistance.

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However, Cheshire Treasurer Rebecca Herzog felt the coordinator pay at 19 hours a week was too high, especially compared to what other town officials earn. Herzog's attempt to reduce the salary by nearly $5,000 failed to garner support on the town meeting floor.

She called for a study of all municipal salaries to ensure every one is being treated fairly and earning according to their skill level.

For the second straight annual town meeting, the highway department was denied a replacement vehicle.

Voters overwhelmingly defeated a plan to borrow up to $95,000 to buy a secondhand road grader to replace a 1986 grader "suffering from metal fatigue," according to Select Board Chairman Robert Ciskowski.

"It's not an exorbitant amount of money to get a good, used grader," he said.

Several taxpayers suggested the town explore leasing a grader or continue to repair the one still in service before asking them to invest in another used one.

A year ago, voters rejected buying a $230,000, 10-wheel dump truck with a snowplow, many calling it too big for the highway department.

Key special articles approved:

- $140,000 from surplus cash to reduce the budget impact on the tax rate.

- $60,000 to replace the heating pipes in the 1962 wing of the former elementary school.

- An updated version of the 1965 agreement for the two-town school system renamed the Hoosac Valley Regional School District.

Adams' annual town meeting votes on the document later this month.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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