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Board of Selectmen 06/19/2017

by Ben Kaplan
June 22, 2017

This week’s board of selectmen meeting on Monday night continued the exploration of a few ongoing issues including the proposed medical marijuana growing facility at 29 Everett St. and interviewing more applicants for Town Counsel.

Members of the Town Planning Board meet with the selectmen

The meeting began with a public comment from a familiar face. Former selectman Jay Leary expressed concerns for the ongoing removal of the painted double yellow lines on Chamberlain Street, an issue he thought had been resolved. Last summer the lines had been a hot button issue in the town, particularly for residents of the street who believed they devalued their homes. At the time the selectmen had decided to leave the lines until they faded.

“The policy had been that lines were the responsibility of the [Department of Public Works] and we’d have set standards for them,” said Leary. “I just wondered what had changed.”

The selectmen offered no explanation for the change, but agreed with Leary’s suggestion to look into the agenda minutes for past sessions to figure out the reasoning.

The Town Administrator’s report was cause for celebration. Mr. Ritter, along with representatives from Hopkinton, had attended a ceremony at the State House Monday afternoon where Holliston was recognized as a star member of the Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Green Communities program. According to the program’s website, it “strives to help all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns find clean energy solutions that reduce long-term energy costs and strengthen local economies.” Holliston was awarded a $248k grant to continue promoting sustainability.

“We’re going to be looking at energy efficiency at the senior center, library, and the Town Hall,” said Ritter, “as well as acquiring two electric vehicles and a charging station.”

The selectmen met with the Planning Board and Economic Development Committee for brief updates. At a previous meeting, the selectmen had wanted to hear the reasoning behind a proposed $25k price increase for the affordable units in the Pulte Homes’ Holliston Woods complex. Town Planner Karen Sherman explained that the new prices were based upon a formula from the state government that incorporates the housing cost itself and the household income of a unit with updated values.

“The increased basic income limit is the big change,” said Sherman. “The Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area changed the median income, in addition the condo fee would have changed and the financing they figured in shows an interest rate of 4.5%. I think they’ve got wiggle room in that, but that is how they are averaging out to the state.”

To the EDC, Selectman Conley asked if there was a concrete guide for new businesses interested in operating in Holliston. According to Sherman, the EDC’s web page is up and running and they are in the process of printing an updated permitting guide that should serve as a resource for all town committees, as well as an outline for businesses so they know who they need to talk to.

On a similar note, the board met with members of the New England Cannabis Corporation to discuss their interest in a town property to create a medical marijuana growing facility. According to Ronald Lipof, managing consultant for NECC, the company has already come to an agreement with the owner of the property and has had conversations with the planning board, but they are seeking a letter of non-opposition from the board so they can officially proceed with the next phase of  the process of purchasing the property and preparing it to any security or safety standards set by the town.

Ron Lipof of the New England Cannabis Corporation

Unlike the other two proposed medical marijuana facilities accepted by the selectmen, some controversy lies with this one due to its location. The property is less than 500 ft away from Shen’s Gymnastics Academy, a large gathering space for young kids. Both Selectman Ahronian and Conley had previously felt that this might pose safety issues. Lipof emphasized in his opening statement though that the facility would solely be used for growing medical cannabis and that it would be unlikely that anyone that did not already know what was going on in the building would be able to tell.

“No marijuana products will be sold on the property. It will not be open to the public. There will be no signage on the building or vehicles that come in and out,” said Lipof. “We are willing to go above and beyond the security requirements created by the general law of the state and any municipal measures you may wish to have.”

Some of the possible measures that were suggested by the representatives included a line of trees on the facility’s property line that physically blocks it from view of the school and moving the entrance to the facility to the opposite side of the building.

Despite these assurances, there was still public opposition to the growing facility. Zufang Shen, owner of the gymnastics school, and her friend Don Mayce attended the meeting to voice their concerns. Even with safety measures put in place, Shen said that she believed that just the idea of being so close to a marijuana production center would be enough for parents to want to take their kids elsewhere and therefore drastically decrease her student numbers. Mayce read two letters written by Shen and the academy’s legal representation as appeals to the selectmen.

“We are not here to talk negatively about medical marijuana, that is not our area of expertise,” said Mayce. “What we do know is that this is a small town, and word spreads fast about who your neighbors are. The fear is that, because this is a small town, her business will be adversely affected.”

Don Mayce reads a letter of opposition to the proposed medical marijuana facility on Everett St.

Following the reading of the letters, Shen came up to the stand and personally asked the selectmen to consider the needs of a local business, one that she said she had worked very hard to create among the many competing schools in surrounding towns. She said this would be a blow to her academy.

The matter of significant contention in this issue was the importance of a defined buffer zone. Massachusetts law states that buffer zones between cannabis businesses and places where children frequently congregate, such as schools and playgrounds, are up to the discretion of the towns in which the businesses operate. The 500 ft limit is in place as a fallback number should a town not declare one on their own. Towns are allowed to go both above or below it. Mayce said that it would not be prudent to lower this limit.

“There’s has to be a reason that there is this buffer law,” said Mayce.

Robert Karp, legal advisor for the group, said that the 500 ft limit is completely arbitrary and should not be held so highly. Lipof further said that receiving a letter of non-opposition from the selectmen would allow them to work with the Town Planning Board to find a buffer zone that would work best for everyone involved.

“Seven hundred and fifty feet on Main Street is often more problematic than two hundred in an area like this,” said Lipof.

Selectman Marsden said he did not see any actual legal or safety ramifications for allowing NECC to continue the process given that they had had similar conversations multiple times before on this issue and this letter of non-opposition would not even guarantee that they would definitely be approved by the rest of the committees .

“I am absolutely sensitive to the concerns that the folks from Shen’s have raised,” said Marsden. “I fail to see how this organization operating out of that facility in any way, shape, or form affects any other building in that is no different than any other business that comes to town, it just happens to involve cannabis.”

Again, Selectman Conley and Ahronian wished to wait on a final decision. Conley had not been aware that it was the town’s authority to set the buffer zones and wanted to do further research into what other towns that allowed cannabis industry had done. Ahronian said he wanted to spend more time talking to Shen about the potential impact to her business.

The selectmen’s deliberations resulted in a hung jury and a move to push back the approval for one more week. Lipof said that he understands the selectmen’s wishes, but they are currently on a quickly closing deadline as the property will be put on the public market soon and they may lose their bid.

“I always say it’s like getting nomination papers,” said Lipof. “Just let us in the game and we’ll be able to move forward. If for some reason we don’t get the necessary approvals, we’ll just have to move on.”

The selectmen also interviewed two other prospective candidates for the position of Town Counsel. Kevin Feeley of Feeley and Brown P.C. and former police chief John Moore met with the board to discuss how they could serve the town best. Feeley, who has practiced solely in the municipal law section for 27 years, said that his small and selective firm would focus on creating clear communication between all aspects of the town’s government. The town has previously used the firm for deliberations for labor counsel. Moore, who is now an attorney, said that while he does not have extensive experience in municipal law, he knows the players in Holliston and has participated in municipal matters constantly during his time here as chief of police.

Former Police Chief John Moore interviews for Town Counsel


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