Town Meeting members to take up zoning, marijuana, and Memorial Stadium in October

Sep 24, 2019

Dartmouth will weigh in on a lengthy capital improvement plan, expanding certain marijuana businesses in town, and changes to zoning bylaws at the Fall Town Meeting. 

At the September 24 Select Board meeting, the board voted to recommend the passage of all ten articles which are set to appear on the October 15 Fall Town Meeting. 

Among the noteworthy items: A zoning bylaw change, proposed via citizens petition by a Maine-based marijuana grower. 

The bylaw change would open the general business district along Route 6 up to marijuana growing and cultivation businesses. Currently, marijuana business are restricted to Faunce Corner Road north of the railroad tracks. 

The Planning Board voted 3-0 to recommend its passage, but the Finance Committee had a 3-3 deadlocked vote. 

Finance Committee chair Teresa Hamm said members were split between several arguments. The proposal will be supplemented by a motion on the floor which has been vetted by the town’s attorney and the Planning Board. 

“I’m not comfortable with a motion from the floor,” Hamm said. “It’s too difficult to understand. It’s a process issue.” 

Hamm also said there was concern from those who voted against recommending the change that the town had just approved carving out a portion of Faunce Corner Road for marijuana business last year, and making changes now may be premature. 

Other Finance Committee members noted the lack of marijuana businesses which have been able to set up shop in that narrow swath of town could be a sign that changes are needed to the bylaw. 

Despite the split Finance Committee vote, the Select Board voted unanimously to recommend the article’s passage. 

“It seems to me if we don’t do it, one of our neighbors will,” noted Select Board Chair Stanley Mickelson. “Everyone’s getting involved in this.” 

Other zoning-related bylaw changes include a citizens’ petition to eliminate “vehicular easement lines” from the town’s setback requirements. These are easements on private property agreed to by private landowners, not the town, and are typically used for shared driveways. There will be a motion on the floor which has been vetted by the town. 

Voters will also be asked to make substantial changes to the town’s Open Space Residential Development (OSRD) bylaw. It allows subdivision developers to build smaller lots in exchange for preserving open space. The changes strengthen regulations on how the open space is preserved, and changes the application process. 

The proposed $8 million capital plan of big-ticket projects drew significant discussion from the Finance Committee. Although the committee voted to recommend the full plan, members did have concerns with the cost. 

The largest expense is $3.6 million to complete the entirety of the Memorial Stadium renovation project. It was originally proposed in three phases. Phase One was completed earlier in the month. Instead of having two separate phases, it was recommended to combine them. 

Select Board member David Tatelbaum, who is also on the committee which oversees Memorial Stadium construction planning, said private fundraising is being explored to help reduce the cost of the project. 

“We’re taking a fairly aggressive stance to raise money for the stadium,” Talelbaum said, noting the committee is still trying to work out legal issues associated with a public entity seeking private donations. 

Other big-ticket items include $1 million for roadway improvements with a focus on neighborhood roads and side streets in certain areas of town. Town government is seeking $400,000 to improve the Town Hall parking lot, and $45,000 to conduct a feasibility study on possibly building a parks and recreation community center. 

Town Meeting is scheduled for October 15 at 7 p.m. at Dartmouth High School.