After considerable debate, Oak Bluffs voters approved a bylaw regulating the location of medical marijuana dispensaries at a special town meeting Tuesday night. With the vote, three sites in town will now be included in a medical marijuana overlay district and opened to special permitting.
The approved bylaw will banish marijuana dispensaries from the major business districts of the town, and instead permit them under a special process in three residential areas: a small area near the hospital, two parcels on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near Goodale’s sand pit and one location on Holmes Hole Road near the Tisbury town line.
A total of 143 voters attended the meeting. Moderator Jesse (Jack) Law 3rd presided over the 15-article special town meeting warrant.
The overlay district article and accompanying amendments produced nearly an hour of debate and confusion among voters who struggled to grasp the consequences of an affirmative or opposing vote. But planning board chairman John Bradford and several vocal supporters of the bylaw urged voters to approve some version of an overlay district, or risk losing local control of the entire process. Failure to pass a bylaw would allow the state to determine where a dispensary could be located.
“If we pass this it gives us some measure of protection,” said David Diriwachter, who commended the planning board and other town officials and residents who had worked hard to create an acceptable overlay district.
“Are we going to be proactive or are we going to do nothing,” Richard Michelson asked.
The selectmen also encouraged voters to take action. “Something that passes an overlay district is very important to the health and safety of this town,” Selectman Gail Barmakian said.
At a public hearing on Thursday, residents spoke in opposition to the inclusion of Dukes County avenue in the overlay district because they thought it was too close to a residential district and areas frequented by children. Heeding their requests, planning board members agreed to remove the area from the permissible dispensary zones. But voters went further on Tuesday, removing the entire Dukes County avenue area from the overlay district.
A property on School street that was originally included in the Dukes County avenue area was also eliminated from the bylaw.
In other business, the town voted to commit $400,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to a restoration of Niantic Park, as well as an additional $350,000 to be funded through a line of credit or other means.
Roger Wey, director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, said he was in favor of the park project, but voiced concerns about proposed reductions in parking for the nearby senior center on Wamsutta avenue. He said according to his review, the most recent design included the elimination of 31 parking spaces from the senior center.
“The park is well designed and well needed and the youth of Oak Bluffs need this,” he said. “But I am concerned about the parking . . . I just want a reassurance that we are not going to be lax in parking.” Selectman Michael Santoro said he had heard the concerns of the seniors, and would work to make more parking spaces available by posting parking exclusive to seniors and distributing parking stickers. He clarified that an approval of funds would not prevent further changes from being made to the plans. “You are not finalizing the project tonight, we are still going to improve the parking,” he said.
In the end, the bylaw received nearly unanimous approval.
Articles seeking to fund architectural plans for the town hall and the fire station also received nearly unanimous voter approval.
Bill McGrath made a lively introduction to the capital plan projects, detailing inadequacies of the current buildings under review for improvements.
He said the town hall was deemed uninhabitable 14 years ago when the school was moved. The fire station lacks decontamination areas, oxygen storage and office space, he said.
Voters subsequently approved $287,000 for fire station architectural plans, and $239,000 for town hall plans.
Maura McGroarty spoke in opposition to the projects. She said the idea of jumping into large costly projects seemed irresponsible, considering mounting expenses the town will face in the areas of other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liability trust and education. In the end, 139 approved and two opposed reconstruction of the town hall. Only one voter opposed the fire station project.