PLYMPTON– On Monday, March 7, Selectmen met and spent several hours with Town Counsel Ilana Quirk, both in executive session to discuss ongoing litigation, and in open session with the public to discuss the proposed medical marijuana grow facility on Ring Road. Selectmen also addressed resident concerns over an attempted home invasion that had occurred the previous night and Selectmen Chairman Mark Russo announced that he will not run for a second term.
Is growing a “weed” agriculture?
There were actually three attorneys present on Monday night, Town Counsel, an attorney representing the Doyle family, who abut the property of the proposed grow-op and an attorney for Jeff Randall, the applicant.
Attorney Quirk summarized for the public her findings on whether or not the decision to sign a municipal letter of non-opposition or support was in the full purview of the Board, and if Plympton’s zoning by-laws allow a marijuana grow-op in a residential/agricultural zone. In recent weeks questions of zoning have become central to the discussion of whether or not Randall’s proposal can even be entertained.
Quirk’s answer: To not send a municipal letter (essentially ending the proposed project), or to send a letter of non-opposition or a letter of support is fully in the unbridled purview of the Selectmen. They could, however, allow a petition for a warrant article this year calling for a non-binding referendum on the issue– a petition asking for just that is in the process of being certified by the Town Clerk– should they choose to solicit further input from the townspeople.
The second question revolved around zoning by-laws, which, in Quirk’s opinion seem to allow the proposed project. The by-laws state that marijuana cultivation is forbidden in residential/agricultural zones, except if it meets an exemption in a state law known as Chapter 40A(3). In this section of the law, among other things, municipalities are limited from interfering with agricultural production.
Quirk stated that in her opinion, a marijuana grow facility would be allowed in the residential/agricultural zones because it does meet the requirements of 40A(3) and furthermore, marijuana cultivation is agricultural.
Quirk noted that the application for the permits from the state that Randall is seeking require him to meet other zoning requirements, and that the Selectmen must certify that he is meeting those in their letter, should they choose to allow the project to move forward.
Quirk also recommended that before any municipal letter is sent, a Community Host Agreement be drawn up and executed with any stipulations that the board might want to require. She added that her firm, Kopelman & Paige, has drafted several Community Host Agreements, which she might be able to assist the board with, if necessary. The agreements allow the town to receive a direct payment in exchange for “hosting” a grow facility.
Attorney Robert Kraus representing the Doyles, himself a former state legislator who once represented Plympton, disagreed with the opinion of the town’s attorney, arguing that cultivating marijuana did not constitute agriculture. He mentioned that because the cultivation would be happening in an enclosed building with security, and that the workers would be background checked that it didn’t meet a “common-sense” definition of agriculture.
“If everybody farming in Plympton had to pass a background check, there would be no one farming in Plympton,” said Kraus. “You don’t need security to grow corn.”
Quirk disagreed, mentioning a different section of the law that defines agriculture very broadly, including by-products of agriculture.
Quirk’s apparent legal blessing of the project in no way means that the project is green-lighted. Quirk has not seen the specific proposal, and was only giving her legal opinion on the questions that the board had put before her.
Selectmen still seem to be divided on the matter. Selectperson Christine Joy is increasingly more vocally opposed to the project each week, twice now ready to vote not to support the project immediately. Chairman Russo appears to be cautiously supportive, and Selectperson Thompson, has made statements that infer that she is open-minded to the project, such as her agreement with Quirk that marijuana cultivation is agriculture in her mind and her previous strong statement opposing the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon.
Several abutters and neighbors of Randall were present, and continued to state their objections, although the Board indulged few public comments on the subject as the agenda indicated that this time was allotted for the Selectmen to discuss the issue.
According to Chairman Russo, Shane Sullivan, 26, the alleged perpetrator of Sunday night’s attempted home invasion, was residing at a group facility for those in substance abuse recovery, which opened last year next to the house where the attempted break-in occurred.
Residents from the neighborhood came to the board with concerns that they hadn’t been properly notified as the incident was unfolding, and generally with safety concerns now that an incident has occurred at the facility.
The treatment facility, the Brook Retreat, at 55 Brook Street, is apparently operated by a company called South Shore Transformation Inc., although Town officials were not aware of the identity of the operators, another concern. It has 16 beds for male patients in recovery, according to their website.
Selectmen noted that there was clearly a breakdown in protocol at the facility and they wished to look further into the matter, including whether a “reverse-911” call would have been appropriate to notify neighbors of the incident. Russo noted that not all of the neighbors’ concerns are Selectmen’s issues but that the Board would look into what could be done to allay residents’ concerns and prevent future incidents.
Russo to retire (from BOS at least)
Selectmen Chairman Mark Russo, in the third year of his first term on the board, announced Monday that after much reflection he will not seek a second term.
Russo, who in addition to his tenure on the BOS, also served
two years on the Finance Committee and has chaired the Community Preservation Committee, said he wishes to remain involved in town government, and might even return to the board someday. He stated that he had hoped when he was elected that he could bring more civility and transparency to town government, and that he thinks that some of that has been accomplished.
Russo added he hoped that a new talented person would run for the soon-to-be-open open seat and continue that work.
Next Meetings: March 14 and March 21, 6 p.m. at the Town House.