Town Meeting members say no to marijuana cultivation on Route 6

Oct 15, 2019

Town Meeting members put a halt to a proposal to expand marijuana cultivation and manufacturing to Route 6 amid concerns with a series of revisions to the proposal. 

At the October 15 Fall Town Meeting, members voted against a citizens petition article brought forth by Maine-based marijuana cultivator Casco Botanical Department. The proposal would have allowed marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facilities in the town’s general business district along Route 6. The proposal required a two-thirds majority to pass. The final vote was 92 in favor and 87 against. 

Casco Botanical had plans to locate a marijuana processing and cultivation facility inside the Dartmouth Indoor Tennis facility on State Road. Under the town’s existing marijuana zoning bylaw, facilities are only allowed along a portion of Faunce Corner Road north of the railroad tracks, and the Dartmouth portion of the New Bedford Industrial Park. 

Attorney Richard Burke said the company had been unable to find a suitable property on Faunce Corner Road, and regulations at the New Bedford Industrial Park prohibit uses which violate federal law.

“Dartmouth Indoor Tennis is uniquely suited with its location, structural layout, square footage — 40,000 square feet — a solar array on the roof, and the added benefit of being tucked away from the main road,” Burke said. 

The building is large and has high ceilings which are ideal for growing and processing marijuana, and new construction would have been costly and prone to delays, Burke said. 

Casco Botanical drafted a citizens petition to change the marijuana zoning bylaw to allow only marijuana cultivation and processing on Route 6. Their proposal would not have expanded recreational or medical facilities.

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

The Planning Board and the town attorney proposed a series of language tweaks which did not change the substance of what Casco Botanical proposed, and only made some clarifications to pass legal muster. The tweaks were introduced as floor amendments.

Select Board member Shawn McDonald proposed a third floor amendment to grant the Select Board the authority to grant special permits for only the cultivation and manufacturing uses.

Town Meeting members raised questions about the number of amendments being proposed from the floor.

The Finance Committee had not seen McDonald’s proposal prior to the meeting, and the Planning Board was confused over language differences between what McDonald proposed at Town Meeting and what had been presented to the board at a meeting earlier in the day. McDonald ultimately withdrew his proposed motion from consideration.

Town Meeting member Jim Griffith raised concerns with whether or not vaping products would be manufactured at the facility. 

“We also have an obligation to the town, especially the youth of town, to not pollute their lungs,” Griffith said. 

The developer did not get an opportunity to answer the question, as the Town Meeting moderator ruled that the question was not directly relevant to the warrant article itself. 

With the failure of Casco’s petition, the company’s possible future in Dartmouth is unclear. Burke could not comment immediately after the meeting, stating the company needed to have a discussion about where to go from here.

Town Meeting members approved all but one other item on the agenda, including the town’s $8 million capital plan.

The biggest expense on the capital plan is the $3.6 million remainder of the Memorial Stadium renovation project. The project was initially proposed in phases, and the first phase wrapped up earlier in the year. Instead of seeking funding for the remaining two phases separately, the project was proposed to be fully funded.

According to Select Board and Memorial Stadium construction committee member David Tatelbaum, work will now commence to get the project put out to bid. Separately, the committee is also finalizing plans to pursue fundraising options to help offset the cost of the project.

Tatelbaum said fundraising as a public entity is complex, but the committee is working to ensure everything is done above board.

The capital plan also included more than $1 million in street maintenance and improvement projects. Combined with Chapter 90 funding, the town plans to put $2.9 million into improving town roadways with a focus on Bliss Corner side streets.

“We have a number of side roads that are in very poor shape,” Director of Finance Greg Barnes said. “Last year we targeted money towards Bliss Corner. This year we will continue to target Bliss Corner because those subdivision roads are the oldest in town.”

The only other article to not be approved was a citizens petition article to remove “vehicular easement lines” from setback requirements. The citizens petition was withdrawn from the floor.