By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Planning Board Chair Rick Leif told the Board of Selectmen at its meeting Feb. 24 that the proposed bylaw was crafted after discussion with Police Chief Mark K. Leahy who told the board it is unlikely such a business would want to open in Northborough.
In fact, Leif noted, none of the first round of applications to state officials for dispensaries was located in town. But, he added, if the town failed to pass any regulations, a business could claim the right to open anywhere in town allowed by state rules.
The proposed bylaw would allow dispensaries by right in the Highway Business District. Such facilities would also have to be at least 300 feet from places where children congregate. Although state law allows up to a 500-foot setback, Leif said keeping the higher setback could leave the town's regulation open to challenges that they essentially zone the use out of town.
Town Planner Kathy Joubert said the entire Highway Business District, which stretches from the Routes 9 and 20 junction east to the Otis Street and Route 9 intersection, contains about 93 acres of land, about 63 acres of which are usable. Much of it is already in active commercial use, from WalMart and a McDonald's to car dealerships.
“We have to give the use a place to go, but that doesn’t mean we’re required to provide a vacant lot,” Joubert said.
Selectman Aaron Hutchins said he worried that the proposal could be “another invitation for the blight that has come to that area,” citing law enforcement issues at a motel in the district as well as the existence of a store that sells adult products.
Hutchins also asked about a possible long-term moratorium, but Leif responded that Attorney General Martha Coakley has said she will not approve moratoriums extending beyond the end of 2014. After that, if the town still didn’t have zoning in place, an applicant could seek the use anywhere in town and be limited only by the state law.
Both Leif and Selectman Jeff Amberson noted that residents of Northborough supported the medical marijuana ballot initiative by a ratio of 60 to 40.
“It's incumbent upon us to carry this out and put these regulations in place rather than kicking the can down the road,” Amberson said.
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, April 1.