Oak Bluffs voters will consider marijuana district

oak-blufs-town-hall

Updated 9:30 am Tuesday, November 12, 2013

For those weary of federal government gridlock, democracy that works will be on display on Tuesday, November 12, when Oak Bluffs voters can have their say in important town decisions at a special town meeting at the Oak Bluffs school, beginning at 7 pm.

While 12 of the 13 warrant articles that voters will be asked to act on are requests to appropriate or reallocate funds, much of the night’s discussion is expected to focus on the proposed boundaries for a Registered Marijuana Dispensary Overly District (RMDOD), the designated area where a Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD) may operate.

On September 23, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) made 158 statewide applicants eligible to move on to phase two of an application process that may ultimately allow a total of 35 medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts to cultivate and market medical marijuana and marijuana-infused products. The list included four applications for Island RMDs.

The new state law allows for no more than 35 dispensaries across the state, with at least one, but no more than five, per county. As defined by the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH), a registered medical dispensary is a facility that cultivates, produces, and sells medical marijuana to licensed patients. The state requires that a facility must operate at least 500 feet from any school, playground, public park, public athletic field, or similar recreational facility.

Town planners had previously identified a total of 10 parcels across three locations where a new district might be created, including one in the hospital district, six off Holmes Hole Road, and three along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, between Goodale Construction Company and Bayes Norton Farm.

On October 3, the Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) expanded RMDOD to include all designated B1 business district properties that abut Dukes County Avenue, including the School Street garage property, and it dropped six proposed locations on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Rd.

At their October 15, meeting Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously expressed concern and skepticism that a dispensary could legally operate on Dukes County Avenue, or anywhere in the town’s business district.

The Camp Meeting Association is opposed to the proposal.

“At a board meeting just the other day, the Camp Meeting Association voted unanimously to oppose the proposal to put the marijuana overlay district along Dukes County Avenue, which includes Campground property,” said Jeff Ferriell, recently elected president of the Camp Meeting Association. “This of course is a long established religious community with a child-friendly atmosphere, that we think would be adversely affected by a nearby medical marijuana operation.”

At a meeting last Thursday, where residents strenuously objected to the the board’s previous decisions, the planning board voted to offer an amendment at the special town meeting which reduces the proposed Dukes County overlay district to just two parcels near the intersection with School Street.

Planning board members explained that even within the Dukes County Avenue district, which is zoned as commercial property, the new state law would prohibit a dispensary on most of the parcels. Most of the lots are within 500 feet of a school or park, which would violate the state law.

Finances

In financial matters, voters will be asked to decide on $750,000 worth of improvements to Niantic Park: $400,000 was appropriated from available funds, $350,000 will be borrowed from community preservation money which will be paid back over three years.

“The town will gain greater value and quality by completing the project as a whole,” according to the executive summary that accompanies the warrant article. The town anticipates a three-year repayment program using Community Preservation Funds, which will enable the town to borrow at a rate of less than one percent.

None of the proposed borrowing for any warrant article will increase the tax rate for Oak Bluffs, according to town administrator Robert Whritenour.

Voters will be asked for a thumbs up to borrow and spend the money needed for detailed architectural plans for a new town hall ($239,150) and a new fire/EMT station ($287,000). The need to replace both structures has been well documented and both buildings are at the top of the list for the town’s six-year capital improvement program. Preliminary studies done by the architectural firm Keenan & Kenney cited numerous structural deficiencies and a lack of adequate space in both town buildings.

$130,000 of available funds in the Ambulance Reserve Fund has been requested to provide the fire department with Scott Air Packs and to upgrade the dive team equipment.

The town will also be asked to vote on transferring $35,000 from the “Sale of Cemetery Lots” account to pay for improvements to Oak Grove Cemetery, including replacing existing water pipes.

Voters will be asked to approve the expenditure of $39,000 for software enhancements, consultants, and boots on the ground assessors for the State-mandated revaluation of real and personal property. The executive summary notes that the appropriation for the 2011 revaluation was nearly three times greater — $110,000.

Also on the docket is the creation of a Stabilization Fund for monies paid for wastewater treatment by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School District, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA and possibly the Ice Arena and Island Elderly Housing.

The selectmen will ask to indefinitely postpone a vote on the much discussed “Minimum Maintenance Standards and Vacant Zoning By-Law,” which was to address the “spot blight” and empty buildings in the Oak Bluffs business district, until the warrant can be further refined.

This article was updated to include developments from the planning board meeting Thursday evening.