Chester board delays cannabis discussion; affirms support for community greenhouse

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

At just a little over 37 minutes in length, last Wednesday’s Chester Select Board meeting touched on many topics, but most of the work was “just housekeeping,” in the words of board chair Arne Jonynas. And there was an off-agenda discussion of future discussions of retail sales of cannabis.

Hance tells the board the new building is 60% complete. Meeting images courtesy of SAPA TV

Town Manager Julie Hance updated the board on the progress on the new public safety building, going up on Pleasant Street. Hance said that, by the end of January, the building was about 60 percent complete and that pouring concrete floors for the fire equipment bays would be put off until the end of February. That work had not been possible by the time winter weather set in. In the meantime, Russell Construction closed-in the building and has been keeping the ground warm to make the pour.

Assistant Town Clerk Amie O’Brien told the board that preparations continue for Town Meeting Day. In-person voting on all articles under consideration will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday March 2 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. O’Brien noted that annual reports are being printed and will be available on Feb. 12. Ballots will arrive on Feb. 10 and be mailed to those who have asked to vote absentee. Residents can request an absentee ballot by calling Town Hall at 875-2173 or by stopping by. They can also make that request through the Vermont Secretary of State’s myvoter page.

As the board decided on Jan. 6, there will be an information-only meeting on Monday March 1 via zoom.  Voters will get a passcode to avoid the step of admitting people to the meeting and the town’s attendance capacity will be increased to 500. For details on the Zoom meeting and other election information, click on the postcard illustration.

“We are working out the details on how the meeting will go,” said Hance. “Comments are tricky.” She noted that the staff would have to work on how to handle the “hand button,” which those attending Zoom meetings use to signal they have a question or comment.

Affirming  support for greenhouse project

Approving a letter drafted by Hance, the board signaled its support for the work of the Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens group, which has acquired a large 1930s Lord and Burnham greenhouse that they are planning to erect as a community asset.

Photo in the Walpole Clarion courtesy Dale Woodward.

The board has heard a couple of presentations by the group, most recently at its last meeting when group members Cheryl Joy Lipton and Robert Nied asked for a letter of support they could use for fundraising. The board has been very supportive and even encouraging in past meetings – asking Hance to draft a letter of support for its approval. But when member Heather Chase suggested that all the board sign the letter to demonstrate a higher level of support, members Lee Gustafson and Jeff Holden objected. Nied said that Jonynas’ signature was sufficient for the group’s purposes and the board then voted unanimously to have the chair sign the letter.

Board pushes cannabis vote into the future

Before adjourning, while deciding what to put on future agendas, board members discussed the issue of retail cannabis and the opt-in vote the town would have to take to allow it. Act 164, which authorizes retail sales of cannabis, allows for a town to opt-in only through an Australian ballot, which can be done either at the town’s annual meeting or at a special meeting called by the board or by a petition signed by 5 percent of the town’s registered voters. A select board cannot make the decision whether or not to authorize sales.

Board member Heather Chase says it’s “a smart decision to wait.”

At a previous meeting, the board separated that from the Town Meeting warning in order to have a public discussion later in the spring. But last Wednesday the board seemed to be looking at a much longer time frame.

“We didn’t have enough time for an in-depth discussion with the public,” said Jonynas saying the topic would not be on the next agenda, but for a future meeting. “We’re starting to gather the information now.”

Hance told the board that the town had received a letter from Felista Sutherland advocating for opting into retail sales which she had distributed to the board. Hance also said she “is watching what the legislature is doing in the coming weeks because that will have an influence on what you choose to do.”

Board member Leigh Dakin saying that the public will want to know what regulations the state’s Cannabis Control Board will make

Board member Heather Chase noted that sales cannot begin until October 2022 so the board’s discussion of this could “wait for a little while” and that “It’s a smart decision to take the time.”

Member Leigh Dakin said the Cannabis Control Board would put together regulations that “we would want to know as the public.”

On Tuesday, Jason Maulucci, Gov. Phil Scott’s press secretary, told The Telegraph that the prospective members of the Control Board were still being vetted by a committee ahead of Scott appointing them and that the work of the board is still several weeks off at a minimum.

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