Joint Discussion on Marijuana Proposed

By Nancy Arsenault

The Planning Board hopes to gather Selectmen and the Board of Health to discuss Stow’s approach to medical marijuana facilities locating here, as Bolton looks at a multi-faceted facility proposed for Rt. 117 in that town.

The Planning  Board also gave a resounding no to the extension of a housing development coming across the border from Hudson into Stow, while the Selectmen agreed to fund a continuing study of the future economic development and historical preservation of Gleasondale and the Gleasondale Mill, at their respective meetings Tuesday night.

The Planning Board reviewed a proposal submitted to Bolton by Medical Farms, Inc., a group looking to establish a medical marijuana growing, harvesting and dispensing center at the home of the former Skinner Auction House on Rt. 117, approximately 1 mile from the Stow border. Their proposal is to renovate that property to include 10,000 – 12,000 sq. ft for growing and processing, 2000 sq ft for retail distribution and 2000 sq ft for a commercial kitchen.

According to Town Planner Karen Kelleher, many towns are starting to receive similar notifications. Without  specific bylaws in place regarding location of such facilities or any rules determining how they can operate within a community, it is difficult for towns to have a say as to how these facilities can exist within their borders.  Kelleher advised the Board to approve a temporary moratorium on facilities locating in Stow until further research and information gathering can be done by the Board. A moratorium application must be submitted to  the Massachusetts Attorney General, and must be supported by the local Board of Selectmen and Board of Health.

The Planning Board felt that little is known about how these facilities will operate or any consequences of those operations for a host community.  They questioned how the marijuana will be dispensed, if security becomes a concern, what kind of traffic may be generated by such a facility or even the amount of taxes they could pay to a town. While existing as non-profits, the businesses would still be required to pay some level of property tax, according to Kelleher, but specifics were not known. Some members felt that zoning specifications should be addressed such as allowing them only in industrial zones, or a specific distance from a school.

It is already specified in state regulations, that the plants must be grown in an indoor facility, thus the warehouse-like expanse of the Skinner building would be appropriate.   In some communities, according to Assistant Planner Jesse Steadman, these operations have classified themselves as “agriculture”, and are looking to establish themselves within the Right to Farm Bylaws of many towns.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about this,” concluded Ernie Dodd, who, with the rest of the Board, voted to support the maximum allowable one-year moratorium on any medical marijuana facilities in Stow. Once they have gained the required support of the other Boards for the moratorium application to the state, they will gather information about the experiences of other towns with this new form of business and work to shape appropriate bylaws for the town.

In other business, the Planning Board said “no way” to a proposal from a housing developer who wished to open a road from a closed cul-de-sac in Hudson and connect it to a proposed cul-de-sac subdivision in Stow above  Walcott Street. The developer already owns the land in question. If positive approval was not issued for the proposal, the spokesperson for the developer said a 40B development of 16 affordable units could be created at the Stow site instead of the proposed 4-lot plan, and would require far less town approval.

While that may be possible in theory, the Planning Board quickly shot down the entire plan in deference to the Stow residents who would live on that extension, regardless of the type of housing. The parcel being proposed for development is land locked and has no access in Stow. All residents would have to travel through the Hudson cul-de-sac and around to Walcott – a distance of at least two miles- in order to get to Stow, their town of residence.  Stow Police and Fire do not have jurisdiction to service an area that they can only access by driving into Hudson.

The spokesperson said that parents in the new subdivision would be required to drive their children to the nearest bus stop in Stow in order to ride a school bus to Stow schools, something he felt they would not mind doing, along with paying to have their street plowed as Stow most likely would not access miles through Hudson to do the job.

Kathy Sferra of the Planning Board said, “You’ve got some pretty big challenges here. Unless I hear that our police and fire and schools support this and will service the road, or Hudson will service the road, I don’t see how this can happen.”

Ernie Dodd added, “We are charged with the safety and well-being of our residents in Stow. If you can’t get approval for Hudson to provide all of these services, then my vote would be a no. It’s as simple as that.”

Bob D’Amelio, a 26-yr member of the Hudson Planning Board, was in attendance and said that 13 years ago, his Board included as a condition of acceptance of the existing Hudson development, that the cul-de-sac never be extended, ever. “We took the developer on his word,” said D’Amelio of the developer’s quick acceptance of this condition.

“I think, based on what Hudson has said and what you’ve heard from Stow, I would suggest that you find another option,” concluded Planning Board member Steve Quinn.

Also last night, the Board of Selectmen approved allocation of just under $2800 to fund Part II of a study conducted by UMASS Center for Economic Development to look at future development opportunities for the Mill, preservation of the historic neighborhood and general revitalization efforts that could enhance the entire area for the Town of Stow.  Equal funding will be contributed by the Planning Board and most likely, the Community Preservation Committee, according to Karen Kelleher.