Chester board nixes putting cannabis vote on ballot; petition could force issue

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board at its Wednesday, Jan. 19, meeting, discussed and took public input on placing an “opt-in” article for retail sales of cannabis on the Town Meeting day ballot and for the second time in two years, decided against it. But a petition that’s being circulated in town might see to it that such a vote takes place on Town Meeting day anyway.

Gwynn Zakov of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns was on hand to explain where the regulations on retail cannabis stand and what to expect in the future. Images courtesy of SAPA TV

Act 164, which regulates the production and sale of legal recreational cannabis, says that before retailing can go forward in a municipality, the voters of that municipality must opt-in via Australian ballot. But pointing to the slow roll out of regulations from the state, Chester Select Board members have said they don’t believe there’s enough information to make a decision and want to wait.

Gwynn Zakov of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns clarified a number of issues for the board and generally said that while not everything the Cannabis Control Board needs to do is done, she would not expect any major new changes to the regulations that the board has already passed.

Chester business owner Scott Blair told the board that having the vote – if the town residents decided to opt in – sooner than later would give him the chance to get investors and paperwork in order to be licensed when the state begins allowing retail sales of cannabis in October. But as it was clear that the board was not going to put the question on the town warning, Blair rose to ask if he could petition to put it on the ballot and what was needed to do that.

Town Manager Julie Hance, seated left, explains the petition procedure to Scott Blair, standing center

Town Manager Julie Hance told Blair that 5 percent of the town’s voter checklist would have to sign the petition, which would mean Blair needs to get between 125 and 130 valid signatures to force a vote.

Chester Town Clerk Deb Aldrich told The Telegraph that once the petition is in, the town has 60 days to warn a vote and that since there is already an election on March 1, it would save money to do it then. But, she added, Blair must have the petition in by Friday Jan. 28 to meet the deadline for inclusion on the warning.

On Monday, Blair told The Telegraph that he had around 40 signatures but wanted to get around 200 to be safe. The petition can be signed at the Down to the Roots CBD shop or at the Southern Pie Cafe, both of which are on the Chester  Green.

Zoning amendment would allow more time for sale

Zoning administrator Preston Bristow told the board that the Planning Commission was looking to expand the time from two years to five in which a non-conforming use can be re-established after it has stopped operation. While both Bristow and the board said this was not “spot zoning,” which benefits a single person or company, the proximate cause for changing the bylaws was that the owners of Baba-a-Louis Bakery are trying to sell the building and the use under which it operated was dropped for that district in a past zoning update. The building has not been operated for that use for more than two years and so that use was lost under current bylaws.

But under an “interim zoning amendment” the board could extend that use. In arguing that it was not spot zoning, Bristow said there are other properties in town that could benefit from the extension as well including the former WAAWWE Market on Route 103 north and the former Bux Auto Repair shop on Route 11.

The board voted in favor of the amendment, which sunsets in two years. By then, it is expected that the commission will return to the Select Board with new zoning bylaws that will include the five year re-establishment time limit.

Cobleigh parking for the Green

Members of the Planning Commission told the board they had been looking at having a walkway built from the former ice rink on Cobleigh Field, which is now a parking lot with electric vehicle charging stations,  to the Green. The idea was to provide more parking for businesses on the Green especially if residents of buildings on the Green and employees of businesses would park there.

Bristow said there had been discussion of an ordinance forbidding residents to park on the Green.

The board’s consensus was that it seemed like a good idea to explore and see how it might work.

Town Meeting warning approved

The board approved the warning for Town Meeting with the amount of $3.4 million to be raised in taxes for the operating budget. That number is $71,434.43 more than last year or 2.3 percent. The text of the warning is subject to change depending upon whether the cannabis opt in petition is successful.

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  1. Scott Blair says:

    Update on amount of signatures needed for the petition, only need 56 more signatures! As of Tuesday morning.