Cannabis cultivation, police station demolition: A look at Town Meeting

May 14, 2020

As town officials prepare to finalize the June Town Meeting warrant — pending a decision on the date for the meeting, which was postponed due to coronavirus — voters will decide on cannabis cultivation in the State Road business district, demolishing the old police station, and funding the Youth Advocate position, while a proposal to allow a solar array on Cross Road is being withdrawn.

The petition to change one Cross Road lot behind the Autumn Glen assisted living facility from residential to business would have allowed solar company NextEra Energy Resources to build an array on the land, which is largely hidden from view.

But although the Planning Board expressed support for the project at a meeting in April, it voted against recommending the proposal due to concerns that if the project fell through, a large lot in a residential area would then be zoned for business use.

The petition is being withdrawn from the 22-article warrant, officials said at a remote Select Board meeting on May 11.

Here’s what will come up at Town Meeting this spring:

Demolishing the old police station

The town will be asking for $480,000 from surplus revenue to demolish the old police station at 249 Russells Mills Road.

The 22,128 square-foot, two-story former town hall was the Dartmouth Police Department’s previous headquarters. The department was forced to vacate it and shift operations to modular units located behind the building after an officer became sick with Legionnaires Disease in 2014.

Since then, the building has sat vacant, and has experienced some water damage.

Youth Advocate

In a split 3-2 vote, the Select Board decided on May 11 to remove the Youth Advocate’s salary from their 2021 budget recommendation. If it passes as modified at Town Meeting, it leaves the position open for funding in future budgets, but would not allow anyone to be hired in the next fiscal year.

The town’s Youth Advocate works to support young people in vulnerable situations, such as abuse victims or those whose families are affected by issues like addiction, homelessness and poverty.

Although fully funded in the 2020 budget, the position has not been filled since Jennifer Cabral left in January 2019.

Town officials have argued for and against eliminating the position entirely. There is currently a hiring freeze until the end of the state of emergency.

Cannabis cultivation

The Select Board also voted to recommend their own article allowing marijuana cultivation and manufacturing — but not retail — in the general business district along Route 6. 

A citizen’s petition to do just that had been voted down at last year’s Fall Town Meeting amid concerns with a series of last-minute tweaks to the proposal that were announced on the floor.

Maine-based marijuana cultivator Casco Botanical Department had proposed the previous petition with plans to locate a marijuana processing and cultivation facility inside the Dartmouth Indoor Tennis complex on State Road.

This time around, the changes have been proposed with advice from town counsel and the support of the Select Board. The Planning Board had previously voted to recommend the proposal in April.

According to Casco attorney Richard Burke, at full capacity the operation would generate an estimated $450-500,000 per year in revenue for the town through a legally mandated three percent community impact fee on top of property taxes.

Currently, cannabis-related businesses are limited to the town’s marijuana overlay district along Faunce Corner Road north of the railroad tracks. No other types of marijuana businesses, including retailers, would be allowed to operate in the business district.

The town still has just one cultivation license and one manufacturing license up for grabs. Any prospective cannabis company would still need to secure those special permits and state approval before opening a facility in Dartmouth.

Capital plan

In addition to the old police station demolition, the Department of Public Works is proposing the largest chunk of big-ticket items. DPW is making some more improvements to the sewer aeration system to the tune of $1.7 million, $1 million of which will be borrowed. This expense, along with other improvements and equipment replacement — including a dump truck and computer system upgrades — will cost the sewer enterprise fund a total of $2.6 million next year.

The DPW water division will also be spending $400,000 to rehabilitate filters at the Old Westport Road plant, while the solid waste division will be spending $395,000 on a new recycling truck.

Meanwhile the Dartmouth Public Schools will be asking for $450,000 to start replacing or retrofitting the middle school’s steam converter and boiler, and the police department will spend $227,857 on four new police cruisers.

Funds for the capital plan are sourced from tax levy, surplus revenue, and a variety of enterprise and earnings accounts from town departments that generate revenue. This year’s capital plan is $5.5 million, up from $4.7 million last year.