Proposed restriction on marijuana caregivers sent to Ellsworth Council

ELLSWORTH — The Planning Board met on Wednesday, May 2, to discuss ordinance changes relating to medical marijuana primary caregivers, a zoning change on the Surry Road and several proposed ordinance amendments.

After a public hearing and lengthy discussion, the board voted to approve sending a recommendation to the City Council to amend an ordinance governing medical marijuana.

The city’s medical marijuana moratorium on primary caregivers operating outside the home is set to expire in June. The ordinance change, if it is approved by City Council, would supersede the moratorium, essentially “immortalizing it,” said City Planner Michele Gagnon in an interview prior to the meeting.

“It’s not changing anything,” Gagnon said.

At the meeting, Gagnon told the board that the moratorium in place right now “prohibits them [primary caregivers] from acting as a standalone businesses, such as we have right now on Main Street.”

“We have someone who availed themselves of a loophole,” Gagnon continued, “to be on Main Street. That person didn’t do anything wrong, as far as we know,” and added that the business will be allowed to continue operating, as it was grandfathered in.

“We don’t want primary caregivers to think we’re against them,” Gagnon said. “We’re not against them. We’re trying to set a fair platform to continue making decisions regarding marijuana in the future.”

Primary caregivers, who are allowed to take on five clients with medical marijuana cards under current law, are permitted to operate their businesses out of their homes in any zoning district under the ordinance. Home occupations are subject to a $10 licensing fee.

Board members pressed the Planning and Code Enforcement Department for specifics regarding when a primary caregiver business would be considered commercial (and thus required to meet stricter fire and safety codes).

“If it’s in a house it wouldn’t be commercial,” Gagnon said.

“If it’s in an apartment it would be because an apartment is a commercial venture,” she said, adding that it would also be subject to state laws and landlord-tenant agreements.

Home occupations, said Code Enforcement Officer Dwight Tilton, are limited to 50 percent of the dwelling, which includes outbuildings and garages, but added that “I’m sure we’re not catching everything here.”

“If we have bugs come up on the home occupation we’ll deal with them.”

Gagnon stressed that the ordinance change was likely to be “short-lived” and was to “hold us over while we wait for the next phase of medical marijuana.”

Last Wednesday, the Legislature moved closer to implementing the sale of recreational marijuana when it overturned Governor LePage’s veto of legalization legislation. Rules governing the sale and use must now be written and approved by the Legislature.

The board also voted to send a recommendation to the City Council to adopt the Wilson Lighting Standards (named after Board Member Darrell Wilson) and to bring standards regarding storage of underground fuel tanks into line with state law.

The proposed ordinance changes will be brought to the City Council for a public hearing and approval before being put on the books.

The board did not take action on the proposed zoning changes that would have allowed for the siting of fuel tanks on the Surry Road at the site of the former Ben’s Store, instead sending them back to the Planning Department for further review.

The proposal would have changed 37.84 acres in the area that are designated for neighborhood use to the urban zone, where fuel sales are allowed.

One resident, who said she is a neighbor of the store, said she was concerned about what she considered a “spot zoning” change and wanted to keep the area residential.

“I don’t see the need for a gas station across the street from my house,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be possible accidents and the traffic is going to be terrible,” adding “we have plenty” of gas stations in town. “Coming from north Ellsworth it’s convenient, but getting to High Street is pretty convenient too.”

Stephen Salsbury spoke in favor of the change, saying he did not consider it “spot zoning.”

“I don’t agree necessarily it would be a spot-zone change because it’s inclusive of several lots,” said Salsbury, “I see the area eventually being higher density.”

“This area should not be neighborhood,” said Salsbury. “It would be a shame not to allow the trailer park not to expand, because that’s a high need. It could be higher density, taller buildings.”

Brian Muir, who purchased the building in 2017 with his wife, Josie, said he understood concerns and that the plans were not anywhere near finalized, but he wanted to see if it was possible.

“We’re not looking to come into the neighborhood and create a whole bunch of problems,” Muir said.

“I think it could be done in a manner that’s aesthetically pleasing,” he added, “as opposed to looking like it’s a chain.”

City Manager David Cole also weighed in on the proposed change.

“From those people I’ve talked to they were mostly saying how great it would be to be able to access fuel along the road,” Cole said. “This is a state highway, and one would hope that a highway like this could accommodate fuel along it.”

After the hearing, Gagnon said the department wanted to take more time to review the change after hearing comments.

“I think it we just misjudged the impacts,” Gagnon said. “I think we can make this work but just do it a bit better.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Digital Media Strategist
Kate is the paper's Digital Media Strategist, responsible for all things social, and the occasional story too! She's a former reporter for the paper and can be reached at: [email protected]
Kate Cough

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