Vassalboro board approves one of two marijuana-related projects

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved one of three applications on their Nov. 10 agenda, in the course of a four-hour meeting under often-frustrating conditions.

To accommodate the expected audience, which numbered more than two dozen at one point, board members held the meeting in St. Bridget’s Center, in North Vassalboro. The attractive former church is large enough to allow for social distancing, but with distancing, masks and difficult acoustics in the high-ceilinged room, audience members repeatedly had to ask board members what they were discussing.

The evening’s agenda called for two public hearings, on two separate applications from Leo Barnett for buildings in which to have marijuana-growing operations at two locations; review of each application; and review of Jeremy Soucy’s application for a used-car business. After the hearings and Barnett’s first application took more than two and a half hours, Soucy agreed to the board’s postponing his application to the December meeting.

The first hearing was on Barnett’s application to build two more marijuana growing buildings and a small storage building on his property on Old Meadow Lane, which runs east off Riverside Drive (Route 201) a little north of the Cushnoc Road intersection. There were few comments.

The second hearing was on Barnett’s application to build two marijuana growing buildings and a small storage building on Andrew Barnett’s property at the east end of Sherwood Lane, which also runs east off Riverside Drive, north of the Burleigh Road intersection. A dozen residents of the Sherwood Lane subdivision expressed objections, some bringing pages of prepared material.

Their major concerns were that the quiet residential area would see increased traffic, unwelcome odors, increased drainage problems and perhaps attempted theft or other crimes. They raised legal questions about the right-of-way by which Barnett accesses his property and about state and local marijuana laws and ordinances, and questioned the accuracy of the map that was a required part of the application.

After board Chairman Virginia Brackett closed the second hearing, board members determined that Barnett’s Old Meadow Lane application was complete. They then approved it on a 3-1 vote, with board member Douglas Phillips opposed.

Phillips said he believed the application needed to be clarified to separate construction of the buildings from proposed use of the buildings. He did not find adequate information to act on the proposed use.

In response to comments from near-by resident Candy Manocchio and volunteer fire department member Michael Vashon, board members attached two conditions to the permit. Barnett is to make sure there is access for emergency vehicles to the existing buildings and to the new ones; and if there are odor complaints, he is to install appropriate odor-control measures.

Discussion of whether the Sherwood Lane application was complete took almost an hour, with questions (and calls of “We can’t hear you!”) from the audience. At the end of the review, a motion to find the application complete failed to get a second, and a motion to find it incomplete failed on a 2-2 tie. The reason board members gave for incompleteness was that the map was not drawn to scale and was therefore inadequate.

By then Barnett had pointed out that Vassalboro’s ordinance says the planning board is first to find that an application is complete and, after that decision, is to schedule a public hearing on the application, if board members think a hearing is needed. Since the evening’s proceedings had reversed the process, he said a decision on whether the application was complete would be contrary to the ordinance.

Board members adjourned with the understanding they will entertain a new application for Barnett’s Sherwood Lane project, with a map that meets their requirements, at their December 1 meeting.


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