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Published: 3/5/2020 9:55:09 PM

Modified: 3/5/2020 9:54:58 PM

PHILLIPSTON – The Planning Board and Selectboard voted at a joint meeting Monday to hold a public hearing on potential year-long moratoriums for the granting of permits for large ground-mounted solar arrays and for marijuana-related businesses.

The hearing, set for March 23, was scheduled after a lengthy discussion with Damon Schmidt, a cannabis entrepreneur with plans to locate a retail marijuana establishment at the corner of Baldwin Hill Road and Route 2A.

Most of the discussion between Schmidt and town officials centered around his desire to see a change in the town’s marijuana zoning regulations, which require the rear of any cannabis operation to be located no farther than 400 feet from the street or road on which it is located.

Schmidt said he would like to see the limit changed to 800 feet in order to accommodate the construction of a cultivation operation — possibly as large as 100,000 square feet — on the same 17-acre parcel to be occupied by his retail store. The large facility is mentioned in a host community agreement with Phillipston proposed by Schmidt.

“You really couldn’t put a building that big within 400 feet without crowding the site,” said Schmidt. “It really would need to be moved to 800 feet. If the town really doesn’t want to change that, we would still put in a 10- to 20,000-square-foot building for a greenhouse. We’d start with 10,000 and then get up to about 20,000.”

While Schmidt argued that Phillipston’s zoning bylaws would allow for a 100,000-square-foot facility, Panning Board Chair Bernie Malouin disagreed.

“(The bylaw) says, ‘no facility will have a gross floor area in excess of 25-hundred square feet,’” said Malouin.

“That’s for retail,” said Schmidt.

“It says ‘facility,’” Malouin responded. “What are you classifying it as? So, you’re saying we don’t have a regulation for ‘facilities?’ I think the board’s intent when we did this in good faith was that we didn’t want buildings larger than 25-hundred square feet; any type of operation, whether it’s cultivation, or retail, or whatever it is. I’m lost as to how the community could sign a host community agreement that violates the local zoning.”

Schmidt, for his part, stuck by his interpretation, claiming the size restriction covers retail establishments only. He said the town has no such restriction on the size of cultivation facilities. He cited Royalston bylaws, which specify such operations must be limited to 10,000 square feet.

“We don’t care about what other towns say,” Malouin shot back. “This is Phillipston.”

“There’s no way in the world you can do that,” Schmidt countered. “If you guys really try to hold me to that, you’re crazy. There’s no way in the world you could possibly say 25-hundred feet for a cultivation site. There’s no way in the world you’d have a bylaw that restrictive.”

Malouin said the board would ask town counsel to get an opinion on the intent of the bylaw.

“I know what our intent was,” said Malouin, “and how it was presented to the town, and what the people voted on. If you can convince the town it should be done otherwise, that’s a different story.”

Schmidt said he would move forward with efforts to sign a host community agreement (HCA) relative to his proposed retail operation, while he would hold off on an HCA for his cultivation facility.

Malouin said the town also needed to determine exactly how many retail cannabis licenses the town would make available. Under state law, Phillipston must accommodate at least one such establishment, but Malouin was of the opinion it would be unfair to severely limit competition.

Both boards voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on a possible moratorium on the granting of special permits for marijuana operations and, with very little discussion, on a proposal for a similar moratorium on ground-mounted solar arrays.

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