WAREHAM – Zoning changes that proponents say would help revitalize Wareham Village, as well as allow a marijuana testing lab to operate within 500 feet of a school will be aired during a Planning Board hearing Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Multi-Service Center, Room 320.
The zoning changes pertaining to Wareham Village would create “a new sub-district for redevelopment with new descriptions, density, use options, parking, and design guidelines.”
Richard Swenson, Wareham Redevelopment Authority member, has said the town needs to take the lead and make the necessary zoning changes to promote investment in Wareham Village and turn back its deterioration.
He’s also stated that the changes are in keeping with the town’s Master Plan and economic development goals.
The economic development plan states, “Conditions in the (Wareham) Village Center reflect underwhelming investments in building upgrades, with vacancies, derelict buildings and empty lots; yet with key town holdings and program opportunities to advance change, including designations as an Opportunity Zone, the downtown is right for substantial change.”
Swenson said the current zoning regulations are not designed to promote the needed redevelopment.
Current zoning hasn’t kept up with modern zoning strategies, he said, and developers face significant zoning challenges in attempting to redevelop.
Changes would include allowing greater building height, from 40 to 60 feet, and greater building lot coverage.
The other zoning changes would allow Smithers, an environmental safety testing lab located at 790 Main St., to add a 1,000-square-foot marijuana-testing lab to the facility. Smithers is within 500 feet of the Decas School at 760 Main St.
State law requires a 500-foot buffer between marijuana establishments and schools, but also allows a town to reduce or eliminate that setback by vote of Town Meeting.
The zoning amendment would add the following, “An exception will be made for an existing product testing lab adding marijuana product testing to its services. This use may be authorized by Special Permit in the district in which it is located.”
Also to be added, “… a single exception will be made for a zero-foot setback from a pre-existing public or private school, where the proposed marijuana establishment is a marijuana product testing lab.”
In an explanation on the change, it’s noted, “All marijuana establishments must be approved by Special Permit. This amendment allows a testing lab as an exception under zoning. The expectation is that this will have limited applicability. One potential project could be Smithers Viscient, with an existing product testing lab, and longtime neighbor of the Decas School, that could add a marijuana product testing lab to their long list of testing procedures.”
Smithers Vice President Ron Biever has said the testing will be similar to that done to other products, like pesticides, chemicals and pharmaceuticals to determine properties and if there are any potentially harmful elements to the public.
Tests will determine potency and whether there’s a presence of heavy metals, pesticide residues, bacterial or fungal contamination or residual chemicals from the manufacturing process. Basically, it’s the same as done with food crops, he said.
The state Cannabis Control Commission requires a number of tests for cultivators and the manufacturers of marijuana products, like edibles.
The proposed lab will be a “business-to-business” model. That is, customers will be companies in cultivation and manufacture and will not include members of the public.
Samples will be small, about 5 grams, and any residue from the testing process will be destroyed. The expectation is to process eight samples per day, Biever said.
The cannabis lab will be closed to the public and to other Smithers employees not working in the marijuana-testing lab. The company expects to hire seven people to work in the testing lab over the next five years, though the facility itself will not have to be expanded. The 1,000-square-foot space for the lab is currently unused.
Biever said security systems will be upgraded to meet state regulations for cannabis facilities, including added security cameras within and without and strict security protocols.
He said there will be an average of one to four deliveries per day.
There will be no external signs indicating cannabis testing.
Biever said cannabis testing is an “evolving, emerging industry” that Smithers has the expertise to deliver.
Other proposed zoning articles expand the use of commercial drive-throughs to the Strip Commercial CS District, as allowed by Special Permit; clarify the definitions of multi-family dwellings; and amend Signs Article 11, redrafted following the recommendation of the State Attorney General’s office.