West Tisbury officials wrestle with medical marijuana permits
Photo by Tony Omer
Under a proposed zoning bylaw change, West Tisbury selectmen would be responsible for issuing a special permit to operate a medical marijuana dispensary. That new responsibility and the selectmen's reluctance to take it on was a topic of discussion and some concern when selectmen met Wednesday, October 9.
Four Island groups have applied to the state Department of Public Health to open medical marijuana dispensaries on Martha's Vineyard. Two applicants, Susan Sanford of Greenleaf MV Compassionate Care Inc., and Geoffrey Rose and Jonathan Bernstein of Patient Centric of Martha's Vineyard, want to set up shop in West Tisbury.
A proposed zoning bylaw change placed on the town warrant for the November 5 special town meeting would place permitting responsibility in the hands of the selectmen rather than the zoning board of appeals. Town administrator Jennifer Rand brought the change to the attention of the selectmen Wednesday night.
"It's just a departure from the way we normally grant special permits, with the planning board and ZBA (zoning board of appeals)," she said. "It is certainly legal and a way to do it. I just didn't want you to be surprised when the first application came in."
"I was surprised when I saw it and I asked why it was there," selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, a police sergeant, said.
Ms. Rand referred to the selectmen's authority to grant liquor licenses. "The thinking behind it was more in line with the alcohol licensing, and quite frankly they (the planning board) would prefer not to be the granting authority on this," she said.
"That could be called passing the buck," selectman Richard Knabel said. "I would be more comfortable if it was done by a board that does it on a more regular basis, that is more familiar with the public hearing process, writing up conditions for different things, as the board of appeals has done."
Mr. Knabel said that if the selectmen were to become a special permit granting board, they would have to set all of the criteria and set all of the conditions.
"This is not what we normally do," he said. "These boards are accustomed to thinking through site issues that we are not. I have concerns because it is not what we normally do."
The selectmen agreed to meet with the planning board to craft a joint request prior to town meeting to amend the article on town meeting floor to relieve them of the sole responsibility.
"It is obvious that this is an area pretty much defined by the state," Mr. Knabel said.
Police Chief Dan Rossi, who attended the meeting, said that the regulations for getting a permit are set by the state department of public health. "You have to abide by the state regulations, but you can add to them," he said.
Solar contract concern
In other business, Mr. Knabel told the selectmen that he had sent letters to the Cape Light Compact (CLC) and to the Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) expressing concern over the long-term viability of CVEC, which to date has received all of its funding from CLC. The CVEC is under contract to construct a photovoltaic panel array on the site of the old town dump, a project which is behind schedule, according to Mr. Knabel and may be at risk of not being completed before the June 30, 2014 date, by which the town has been told it must be complete in order to meet the conditions of the contract.
The letters, copies of which Mr. Knabel provided to the Times, asked questions raised by a letter the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU), sent to the CLC concerning operating irregularities and the funding relationship between CLC and CVEC.
"Since West Tisbury is a member of both organizations, and has entered into a 20-year contract with CVEC..., the financial stability and viability of CVEC is certainly a matter of considerable concern, especially if the towns now have to assume the funding burden," Mr. Knabel said.
Mr. Knabel signed the letters "chairman, board of selectman."
Stationery and not the subject matter of his letters raised an issue selectmen said they would discuss at their next meeting, namely the use of town letterhead.
Asked prior to Wednesday night's meeting if he had sent his letters on behalf of the selectmen, Mr. Knable told The Times in an email that the board did not ask that he send the letters.
"I'm exercising my right of inquiry on behalf of the town (and actually
indirectly the Island) since the DPU's requiring a new aggregation plan;
also the involvement of the attorney general's office, is a matter of some
concern for the towns (Tisbury and Edgartown) thinking they are going to get operating photovoltaic arrays by June 30, 2014. Potentially, there are
obviously considerable financial ramifications as well," Mr. Knabel said.
Following the Wednesday night discussion of the CLC and CVEC, and without elaborating, selectman Cynthia Mitchell requested that the use of town stationary be placed on the next meeting agenda.
In a telephone conversation Friday, town administrator Jennifer Rand confirmed that Mr. Knabel had requested town stationary for his letters. Ms. Rand said she denied his request.
Ms. Rand said, "The board had not met or discussed the letters. In past practice, letters have not gone out on letterhead, signed by a board member, without previous discussion by the board."
She said that there is not a written town policy covering the issue.
In other business, Michael Colaneri, vice chairman of the affordable housing committee (AHC), presented a preliminary plan for two affordable apartment buildings with two apartments each to be built on town land next to the Edgartown Road fire station and ball field. He said the apartments would be sited far from the road, at the back of the 4.9-acre lot near the bike path, leaving space on the land for other town projects in the future. He said a new driveway to the apartments would allow for expansion of parking for the ball field. The ball field would not be altered.
Mr. Colanrei said the committee expected the project to follow the course of the Sepiessa affordable apartments, with Island affordable housing agencies taking over the building, financing, and management of the apartments. Mr. Colaneri said the committee has applied to the town's Community Preservation Commission for $50,000 to pay for the predevelopment and design work.
Affordable housing committee chairman Joanna Scott presented a report proposing a new community partnership program (CPP) to assist homeowners who may have trouble keeping up with the costs of homeownership. The CPP would pay the total cost of developing affordable housing on their property. She said the program, still in the planning stage, would offer financial assistance for apartment conversions and upgrades to existing buildings to bring them up to rentable condition.
Ms. Scott said that not only would the program help people who are having financial trouble stay in their homes, it would add to the town's store of affordable housing options. Homeowners would have to meet certain conditions and would have to agree to certain conditions and a lien, set by the CPP. The committee has applied to the CPC for $150,000 in startup funds.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell said, "It's a great concept. It utilizes existing resources."
Selectmen approved police Chief Rossi's request to designate Bradley Cortez a student officer in order to meet a requirement to attend the police academy. Mr. Cortes would be able to work as a police officer after graduation, according to Mr. Rossi.
Selectmen voted to sign a new 10-year contract with MVTV to provide public TV access through the Island's cable provider Comcast. The Island towns signed a 10-year contract with Comcast last spring.