Town officials hope to improve communication, preparation for Town Meeting

Dec 3, 2019

After a series of high profile Town Meeting proposals well-supported by town government failed to pass in recent years, town officials hope to improve communication and possibly revisit expanding marijuana cultivation on Route 6. 

The Select Board and Planning Board met on December 2 for a special joint meeting, the first of what officials hope will become a routine event to discuss issues facing both boards and better prepare materials and information for Town Meeting members. 

It follows the October 15 Fall Town Meeting defeat of a proposal by a marijuana company to expand the town’s cultivation zoning into Route 6. 

Maine-based cultivator Casco Botanical Department had sought to set up a cultivation facility at the Dartmouth Indoor Tennis building, which would have required expanding the town’s marijuana zoning to Route 6.

Both the Select Board and Planning board voted to recommend its passage at Town Meeting, but it was defeated. The defeat meant Dartmouth missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue from the business. 

“I thought we were in a good position, and I talked to a lot of people in town who thought it was a good article,” said Select Board member John Haran. “We just let tax dollars go away, and [people in town] were disappointed in us.” 

Member Shawn McDonald noted he was in favor of the article, but had concerns with how the permitting process works. He felt it was odd that the Select Board has the authority to approve a host agreement, while the Planning Board decides if the facility can build in town. 

McDonald had introduced an amendment on the floor at Town Meeting to change that, but it and the entire article failed amid confusion as another floor amendment had also been proposed to clarify regulatory language. 

Select Board Chair Stanley Mickelson and member David Tatelbaum noted it is not the first time this issue has come up. At the 2017 Fall Town Meeting, members rejected a proposal to allow apartment buildings on Route 6. It was proposed as a citizens petition by the apartment developer behind Dartmouth Woods. 

When the measure failed, the company moved forward with building an apartment complex under the state Chapter 40B affordable housing program, which gives the town less say in the process. 

After discussion, the boards brainstormed several ideas to simplify the process and keep Town Meeting members better informed — from possibly avoiding the use of floor amendments in the future, to providing better leadership and keeping the public more informed about exactly what complicated Town Meeting articles for things like zoning actually does. 

Board members also talked about possibly re-considering the proposal to expand marijuana cultivation zoning to Route 6, and taking a second look at if the town’s marijuana zoning in Faunce Corner Road and the New Bedford Industrial Park — whose policies currently forbid marijuana businesses  — is actually effective.