Vassalboro resident seeks to change marijuana ordinance

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen entertained three requests from residents of the Sherwood Lane subdivision at their Dec. 10 YouTube meeting, moving two forward without any final action.

Leo and Andrew Barnett have spent the fall seeking town approval to build two large buildings to lease to medical marijuana growers on land beyond the end of Sherwood Lane, the road off Riverside Drive that serves the subdivision. Residents consider the proposed commercial development inappropriate so close to, and accessed through, a residential subdivision.

The Planning Board approved the project Dec. 8 (see related story, p. )

Jessica Reed, speaking for others concerned, asked selectmen to consider three actions: amending Vassalboro’s local marijuana ordinance to limit the number of growing facilities in town; prohibiting commercial marijuana projects in subdivisions; and perhaps monitoring existing facilities.

“We never expected a situation like this,” and with town support would like to protect residents of other subdivisions from similar surprises, Reed said.

Selectmen agreed that since they developed the original marijuana ordinance, they should discuss amending it. Town Manager Mary Sabins said town attorney Kristin Collins pointed out the ordinance no longer matches revised language in state law. Selectmen asked Sabins, working with Collins and interested Sherwood Lane residents, to recommend changes.

Board Chairman John Melrose would like to see a revised draft when the selectmen meet next on Jan. 7, 2021. Sabins said she would try to have one ready by then.

Amending the subdivision ordinance should be a planning board task, selectmen agreed. They voted unanimously to ask the planning board to take it on, in cooperation with Collins and Sherwood Lane residents.

Selectmen did not discuss monitoring existing facilities.

Reed thanked selectmen for hearing residents’ concerns and sought advice on the procedure for appealing the Dec. 8 planning board decision. Sabins referred her to Codes Officer Paul Mitnik.

Sherwood Lane resident Dan Belyea commented that the Nov. 10 and Dec. 8 planning board meetings had been frustrating for residents trying to comment. It was difficult to hear what was going on at the Nov. 10 hearing, held in St. Bridget’s Center, and he was unable to connect in to the virtual Dec. 8 meeting, he said.

Following up on an earlier discussion about use of the town ballfields in East Vassalboro during a declared public health emergency, board members approved a short Covid-19 Recreation Field Closure Policy. It applies to town parks and fields, not to school recreational facilities. It says:

• Sabins is to monitor pandemic reports and may, in consultation with the recreation director and school superintendent, declare parks and fields open to unrestricted public use, open to limited public use or closed to the public. She is to notify selectmen of any action.
• Posted town policies are to coordinate with school policies “when practical.”
• If a “group or gathering” is on a town park or field posted as closed, town officials may ask local police or sheriff’s deputies to order them to leave.

Other actions selectmen took at the Dec. 10 meeting included appointing Kevin Reed to the Board of Appeals and Paul Oxley to the Trails Committee, and amending the town personnel policy to incorporate the new state Earned Paid Leave Law.

At Melrose’s suggestion, board members, Road Commissioner Eugene Field and Vassalboro Community School technology specialist David Trask discussed improving the driveway at the recreation field. Melrose had considered recommending pavement, but he and Field thought crushed stone would be adequate, and less expensive. Trask agreed crushed stone would pack down to make a good surface.

Melrose led a discussion of repairs to the Civil War statue in East Vassalboro (see The Town Line, Dec. 3, p. 1). If the town paid some of the cost, the Vassalboro Historical Society might contribute, he said. Board members will wait to see what Historical Society directors decide.

As of Dec. 10, the driveway and the statue are left for continued discussion as the 2021-2022 budget takes shape early next year.

Melrose is exploring a 250th anniversary fireworks display based on the Criminal Justice Academy grounds. Academy officials are not opposed, but want more details, he reported. Semiquincentennial anniversary expenses are likely to be another 2021-2022 budget item.

Melrose further reported that bids for work on the Gray Road culvert are due Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. He proposes reviewing them at the Jan. 7, 2021, selectmen’s meeting, which will also be via YouTube.

Vassalboro selectmen unanimously approved Town Manager Mary Sabins’ request to give all town employees a paid holiday on Dec. 24 and authorize closing town facilities at 2 p.m. on Dec. 31. The exception, of course, will be the public works crew if a snowstorm requires them to work over either or both holidays.

Sabins thanked the board for giving employees a holiday gift; they deserve it, she said.

The transfer station will be open regular hours, 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., on Saturday, Dec. 26.


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