Planners recommend marijuana moratorium; table cultivation proposal, pass new office building

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

While recreational use of marijuana is not a land-use question, Steve Collins feels town planners can voice their concerns over the current lack of regulations.

After reading an article recently published in the Maine Townsman, Collins asked fellow Bridgton Planning Board members to discuss whether they should request selectmen to seek a 180-day moratorium on marijuana establishments.

The moratorium would allow the town a chance to address issues and develop regulations.

If supported by selectmen, they would take the moratorium question to voters either at the annual June town meeting, or they could call for a special town meeting.

Planning Board member Phyllis Roth also read the Maine Townsman piece, and noted that a half dozen towns have enacted moratoriums because the state currently has no guidelines to address the marijuana matter.

Planner Catherine Pinkham initially “teetered” on the moratorium idea, not wanting to stall business development yet also wanting a firm handle on how to regulate. Ultimately, she fell on the side of seeking a moratorium.

Planner Michael Figoli opposed the moratorium, feeling business projects could be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Planner Deborah Brusini sees the moratorium a chance to work out “kinks” and create detailed regulations “since there is a lot to consider.”

In regards to local regulation, the Maine Townsman article states, “The Legalization Act allows municipalities to impose regulations on marijuana establishments over and above those imposed by the state. Whether towns will feel a need to do this will depend to some extent on the rigor and robustness of the regulations issued by the state. Since those regulations are many months in the future, it’s difficult to say how extensively towns may want to regulate licensees. However, there are some areas to which towns will want to pay attention.”

The article continued, “Marijuana cultivation operations use high-intensity lighting, which often requires an electricity service upgrade. Consequently, towns may want to consider employing specialized fire code and life safety code provisions for cultivation sites. Similarly, marijuana manufacturing companies that employ extraction technologies may utilize solvents, such as butane, that are combustible. Again, specialized life and safety code issues may be relevant for these businesses.

“The marijuana industry operates on a largely cash basis, so towns may want to consider security requirements, such as requiring exterior lighting, surveillance cameras and alarm systems for licensees, particularly retail stores.

“Finally, municipalities will want to ensure that code enforcement officers, fire officials and law enforcement have access to the premises and an appropriate range of business records, to ensure compliance with local regulations.

Maine’s Marijuana Legalization Act incorporates extensive elements of local control. Towns will face several critical decision points as they contend with the emergence of the recreational marijuana industry. Unfortunately, the Legalization Act itself provides little in the way of guidance to towns about how to make these decisions. As municipal officials and their advisers ponder these questions, standard practices will begin to emerge, but it’s important for towns to begin engaging in the process of confronting these issues now.”

The moratorium resolution passed by a 4–1 vote (Figoli against), and will be sent to selectmen for consideration. Selectmen meet this coming Tuesday, and Collins said he would address the matter with the board. He pointed out that the town’s attorney recommended that if Bridgton moves forward with a moratorium, the freeze on activity could be retroactive to Tuesday’s meeting (March 7).

In other planning board news:

Application incomplete. One marijuana venture was put on hold when planners deemed an application by Armonice, LLC as incomplete.

Michael Rennell, a managing member of Armonice, has entered into a long-term lease to rent warehouse space at 527 Portland Road (an industrial garage across the street in the area of Campfire Grille and Gallinari Electric), and would develop “several rented partitions and pods to lease to various tenants.” Building modifications will take about two months. Those tenants will be allowed to grow marijuana, provided they comply with all State of Maine laws and regulations.

The proposal calls for developing each space “into a desirable rental location for the marijuana cultivators such as providing installed lighting and watering systems, selling horticultural products on hand in the building (soil, materials and other planting needs), and employing knowledgeable agriculturalists for the tenants to consult with to better maintain a good and legal crop.”

Armonice, LLC (located in Narragansett, R.I.) said the site will have video surveillance, and each separate tenant area will be locked. There will be no outdoor or building changes, and no outdoor advertising.

Planners raised various questions from the amount of water usage and wastewater disposal created by the operation to whether the use of industrial lighting might require more power were not addressed in the business model.

“There is not enough there to say the application is complete,” Brusini said.

“Those are reasonable observations,” Collins added.

Planner Dee Miller also referenced a impact statement by Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman dated Feb. 24. In the letter, Chief Stillman had concerns regarding the security plan — security of the building and staff — as well as “quality of life issues” including odor, robbery of cultivation center, drug resales and diversion, and internal theft.

“Do they have contingencies for unforeseen events, disaster plans, requirements to report missing product to police and corrective action plans?” he asked. “Nothing in their current plan indicates they do.”

Chief Stillman noted that the applicant indicated “the building will be secured,” but failed to list specifically how it would be secured.

“If their strategy is to develop a comprehensive security plan at some future date, will the Health Department, police and fire be required to weigh in on the finished plan?” the chief asked.

Initially, Chief Stillman recommended that planners table action on the proposal until those questions were answered. In an updated impact statement dated March 2, Chief Stillman crossed out “incomplete” and changed his statement to “approve.” The position change occurred when those concerns were “successfully discussed,” according to Brenda Day, Bridgton’s administrative assistant.

Jeffrey Wilson of Braun & Wilson of South Paris, representing Rennell, noted that the developer has committed $25,000 capital to support the company and minor construction proposed to the structure.

While Wilson sought permission to speak to address questions raised by planners, Collins interjected and denied the request, saying legal counsel advised the board to be “very deliberate” on its review of the application.

“This will be a contentious matter, and we want to get it done right,” Collins said.

The board voted 5–0 to table action until their April meeting, giving Armonice, LLC time to submit a complete application.

See if it works. Developer Justin McIver knows the importance of foot traffic when it comes to whether a business succeeds.

When McIver proposed to build a new office for his company, Main Eco Homes, a “mixed use” 4,300-square foot building on a lot (175 Portland Road) adjacent to Dunkin’ Donuts, he wanted to include an “in” access only to connect the two properties.

Initially, planners rejected the idea. They, however, were open to hearing McIver make his case to reconsider the idea.

McIver said the “interconnect” would be an “in” only access point from the roadway leading to Dunkin’ Donuts to his new complex. A “Do Not Enter” sign would be posted from the office complex side, prohibiting motorists from leaving the Main Eco Homes facility and drive toward Dunkin’ Donuts.

To help enforce the in-only access, McIver would construct a 12-foot path. Code Officer Robbie Baker suggested a 9 to 10-foot wide path, which would prevent two vehicles (one traveling in and one attempting to go out) from using the interconnect at the same time.

“Most developed areas connect parking lots,” McIver said. “It’s the right thing to do. If it causes problems, I’ll block it off.”

The lot is 1.02 acres. The clapboard and shingle-sided building will have a daylight basement, resulting in two floors. The first floor will house three commercial office spaces while the second floor will have two suites either commercial or two-bedroom residential apartments.

The building will be constructed on the center of the lot with an access driveway from Portland Road. The site will include 23 parking spaces in front of the building and eight additional spaces building the structure.

Planners voted 5–0 to approve the project, allowing the interconnect piece up to 12-feet and requiring a “Do Not Enter” sign.

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