Oak Bluffs planning board trims medical marijuana district

The Oak Bluffs planning board discusses a medical marijuana overlay district. — Photo by Steve Myrick

The Oak Bluffs planning board voted Thursday to amend its proposed zoning bylaw governing medical marijuana dispensaries, when special town meeting voters gather next Tuesday.

The board will amend the measure to eliminate all but two parcels along Dukes County Avenue, near the intersection of School Street, as possible sites for a dispensary. The planners had decided to propose all of Dukes County Avenue as part of an overlay district.

Chairman John Bradford, Kris Chvatal, and Bo Fehl voted to reduce the size of the Dukes County Avenue district. Erik Albert voted against the measure. Brian Packish recused himself from the vote because he owns property on Dukes County Avenue.

About 20 Oak Bluffs residents voiced strong objection at a public hearing Thursday night. No one spoke in favor of the four areas the planning board proposed earlier.

The four areas are the health care district where the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is located, a small parcel off Holmes Hole Road, the commercial district on both sides of Dukes County Avenue, and several parcels on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near the Goodale Construction sand pit and the NSTAR facility. Those four overlay districts will appear on the special town meeting warrant, but can be amended by the planning board or any voter on the floor.

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.

Many in the crowd questioned why the board would include those parcels that don’t meet state qualifications in the overlay district.

“You’re creating an overlay district that is illusory, because most of the parcels can’t comply,” selectmen Gail Barmakian said.

Planning board members argued that though a dispensary would be a non-profit enterprise, it would essentially be a retail business.

“My feeling was it’s a business entity, so it should go in a business district,” planning board member Erik Albert said.

The meeting illustrated the difficult and complex issues faced by Island towns. Chairman John Bradford said if the special town meeting votes against the proposed zoning bylaw next Tuesday evening, it will leave the town with no control over the location of a dispensary, and applicants could locate a dispensary on any parcel that satisfies the state law.

“From a planning board perspective, you have to provide a viable option,” planning board member Kris Chvatal said. “On the other side, no one wants it in their neighborhood. This is probably going to turn out to be moot anyway.”