Naples officials: No pause on pot moratorium

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The Naples Code Enforcement Office has been getting inquiries from parties interesting in purchasing property for marijuana growing operations.

A state law designed to help launch agricultural businesses could allow a potential pot-growing business to sidestep submitting a site plan review with the local planning board.

A moratorium would prevent marijuana-based businesses from setting up shop wherever, and it would give the town a say-so in establishing suitable locations.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen discussed how soon a marijuana moratorium could be put into place and the necessary steps to do that.

In the Town of Naples, a moratorium would require approval of residents at a Special Town Meeting, according to Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak. By law, other Maine municipalities with a town charter are able to establish a marijuana moratorium through a majority of votes at the city council or selectmen level, he said. And, many Maine towns have already put into place a six-month marijuana moratorium, he said.

Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Renee Carter told the board that time was of the essence to get a moratorium in place.

“I’ve been told by growers they need to identify the land and buy it. They are calling around to see what towns have moratoriums,” Carter said.

According to Paraschak, “It is not a concern about the product; it is a concern about the facility being plopped anywhere in the town of Naples.”

Carter agreed that, as it stands, a huge producer could move into a residential area, and do so because it is considered an agricultural business, which does not require a site plan review.

A moratorium “gives us some time,” Carter said. “It gives the people of Naples time to ask, ‘Where do we want this to go?’”

Paraschak explained, “One of the reasons this was brought up on the agenda is: The commercial manufacturing of pot for recreational use is allowed by the State of Maine.”

An agricultural exemption would allow such a business plan to skip a site plan review, he said. The concern is not whether or not growing marijuana is allowed, he said. The worry is that without a site plan review, the town would be in a vulnerable position without a say-so as to the location of such a business, he said.

“It is placing a large facility in a commercial zone. It could be near a school. We don’t have any control. If it is agriculture, it is out of our hands,” Paraschak said.

“We want you to look at it before September,” he told the selectmen. “It is something lacking in the town of Naples.”

Chairman Jim Grattelo spoke on the subject.

“We do have the authority to pass a moratorium — a blanket one that covers everything,” he said.

Naples Planning Board Chairman Larry Anton emphasized what Paraschak had been saying — how the town cannot change the marijuana legalization law but it can determine the best location for the types of businesses allowed by the law.

“You are not banning commercial growers, you are saying you have to come before review,” Anton said.

Grattelo agreed with the approach.

“You, as a member of the planning board, want to review it. Me, as a selectman, I want a moratorium so it does not end up on the Causeway near a church,” he said.

Anton said, “Naples is not proactive.”

Like Carter and the other board members, Anton advocated for laying down some rules before any pot seeds are planted.

The residents “voted ‘yes’ to legalize marijuana, not to put it in Naples,” Grattelo said.

Carter said she wanted to know if the law enforcement cost would increase with growing operations in town. She asked if the town should require fencing around such businesses.

The moratorium will be discussed at the next board meeting two weeks from now.

Carter said that the interest in this up and coming industry “is ramping up an extra step, and we want to be ahead of that.”

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