Potential pot retailers in Lenox might have one more hoop to navigate

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LENOX — Town planners wrapping up a zoning bylaw proposal for a decision by voters want to raise the bar for potential adult-use recreational marijuana retailers.

At this past week's meeting, the Planning Board agreed to revise the pending bylaw allowing pot shop operators to seek a spot along the town's busy commercial corridor off Route 7/20 (Pittsfield Road).

Under the presumably final proposal for a special town meeting decision Nov. 1, applicants would have to jump through one more hoop — a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as ZBA site plan approval.

"The board agreed that this higher level of review for retail establishments was merited based on what we heard from the Lenox community," said Planning Board Chairwoman Pam Kueber.

During Tuesday's meeting, Kueber cited guidance from Town Counsel Joel Bard of KP Law in Boston that "it's very difficult to defend a site plan denial, unless it's for extremely good reasons. It does not have the same force as a special permit has. With a special permit, you just have much more flexibility to say no."

No other revisions were made to the tight marijuana bylaw regulations approved by the board last month.

Nonretail establishments such as cannabis cultivators, processors and testing labs would be allowed by right along the state highway commercial zones, as well as in the compact Lenox Dale industrial zone. The ZBA would have to review and approve a highly-detailed site plan submitted by applicants.

On-site public consumption of marijuana is not allowed anywhere, and there can be no outside indication, such as a sign, that a facility is involved in marijuana. As required by state law, an applicant for a marijuana business would need Select Board support through a host-community agreement, including a community outreach public forum.

Two-thirds approval is needed for the marijuana zoning bylaw. If it fails, voters would consider an extension through next June 30 of the temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana establishments. Two-thirds support also is needed for that fallback option.

The planners will complete preparations for their presentation to the voters at their next meeting, Oct. 23.

Registered medical marijuana dispensaries already are allowed, by last May's annual town meeting vote, along the Route 7/20 commercial zones north of the village and in the Lenox Dale industrial zone.

This fall and beyond, the Planning Board's newly formed Master Plan Steering Committee will work with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on an update of the town's long-range vision. Kueber and veteran member Kate McNulty-Vaughan have been named by the board to the steering committee.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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