Chester board begins to set up cannabis panel

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Board Chair Arne Jonynas introduces the control board topic and speaks of new information and a model resolution to form a local control board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

The Chester Select Board took up the task of forming a local cannabis control commission at its Wednesday, April 20 meeting and while everyone agreed that such a commission has little real power, the discussion quickly turned to whether there would be representation of “both sides” on that panel.

Kicking off the discussion, Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said that the town had received a bit more guidance regarding a cannabis control commission including a model resolution for creating the commission and setting out the lengths of terms for commissioners.

A five-member commission with two Select Board members and three members of the public was suggested. Jonynas noted that two select board members would not automatically constitute a select board meeting.

Board member Heather Chase suggests that the select board interview candidates for the control board as they do for other boards

Vice chair Heather Chase suggested that commission candidates be interviewed by the Select Board,  the same way that prospective members of the Planning Commission and the Development Review Board are. By Wednesday evening, Robert Nied, Reisa Alexander, Arianna Knapp and Susan Bailey had put their names forward to be put on the commission and  Jonynas confirmed that the process is still open for others who want to be considered.

The Telegraph asked if the commission would be a town board and thus subject to the open meeting law and public records act.  “Most definitely,” said Jonynas.

“I think from my perspective we have a variety of opinions on this issue on the board right now,” said board member Lee Gustafson, suggesting two select board members “one from each side of the issue….I think that fair representation should be considered.”

Board member Ben Whalen volunteered to be a member of the local Cannabis Control Commission

“We could get this (model) resolution fine-tuned so it applies to Chester more specifically,” said Jonynas, who went on to ask how long the terms should be and whether to have term limits. The board seemed to agree on one-year terms for select board members and three year terms for public members. Gustafson, who led the opposition to allowing retail cannabis in Chester, and board member Ben Whalen volunteered to serve on the commission.

Gustafson said that based on his reading of the information from the state board “this board will have very little responsibilities and very few teeth.”

The board will be looking to adopt a resolution creating the commission and interviewing candidates at its Wednesday, May 2 May 4 meeting. Anyone wishing to be considered for the commission should send a letter of interest to Town Manager Julie Hance at P.O. Box 370, Chester, VT 05143 or to julie.hance@chestervt.gov.

Public nuisance ordinances, cannabis and a bit of confusion

The two avenues available for regulating cannabis businesses that have been discussed in several forums are zoning and public nuisance ordinances.  Hance provided the board with the public nuisance ordinances enacted by Hartford, Burlington, Woodstock and Stowe. But in the discussion that followed members seemed to momentarily miss the connection as they looked at local laws aimed at curbing noise, public urination, defacing buildings and public indecency including nudity and intercourse in public.

“What are we trying to accomplish here?” asked Jonynas.

Board member Lee Gustafson called for maintaining the “wholesome character of the Green.”

Board member Leigh Dakin said she thought the nuisance ordinance referred to the “salvage yard” ordinance the board enacted a while back and noted that people want to see some “teeth” in that.

Gustafson said he thought this goes back to the Master Plan and what was going to be “good” for Chester. “How does Chester present itself to tourism and people who might want to move here?”

“If we have a nuisance ordinance in place that allows us to be discriminating in what sort of businesses operate … and are suitable for the town of Chester …” said Gustafson noting that the Green was near a school, churches and a public library. “We need to be thoughtful about how we are going to maintain the wholesome character of the Green.”

Whalen said, “I take that more as a zoning concept rather than anything having to do with ordinances.”  He noted that his concern was that if the board was going to create ordinances, the town should be following them. And, he added, that if the board is talking about cannabis, that should be done through zoning.

“But the state has taken zoning away,” replied Gustafson, referring to the prohibition on zoning cannabis in any other way than other retail.

Chester resident Barre Pinske told the board that it “isn’t the government’s job to regulate morality.” Courtesy SAPA-TV

“One thing we have to be extremely careful of is that we don’t single out cannabis in any way,” said Jonynas who noted that comments made in discussions could become part of a legal action against the town. “The people of the town voted it, and they voted it overwhelmingly – by quite a margin.”

“If we can’t talk about this for fear of a lawsuit down the road, we’re just kicking the stool out from under us…” said Gustafson. “You know my opinion on this. Did it pass: yes. Did I want it to pass: no. But that doesn’t mean I can’t voice my opinion on this anymore. … How can I represent my constituents if I can’t talk about the matter?”

From the Zoom call, Barre Pinske said, “It isn’t the government’s job to regulate morality,” but Gustafson disagreed.

“The only thing we regulate is morality. You can’t have rules and regulation without having some sort of moral basis on which the rules are made. Whether it’s your morality or my morality or someone else’s, that’s all we regulate,” said Gustafson.

After a bit more back and forth, Jonynas said, “It looks like we are going to let this slide for a while.”

Exploring purchase of Rt. 103 North solar field

In this, the seventh year of the operation of the solar farm on Rt. 103 near Trebo Road, the town has the option of purchasing the installation and using the power it generates for the town. At previous meetings there had been questions about whether a solar field is a utility and thus whether a municipality can own one.

According to Hance and Gustafson, that question has been settled and now the town is exploring the cost of buying it and its performance in generating power. Gustafson – who owns a company that installs photo voltaic systems – said he had thought that the field was rated for 150 kilowatts, but in fact it is 500 kilowatts and seems to be performing very well.

The board authorized Town Manager Julie Hance to sign the notice of intent to buy the solar field and begin the process

“Since August 2015, it’s made 5.38 gigawatt hours and that’s a lot of power,” said Gustafson, who runs a solar installation business.

According to Gustafson the panels have a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty and a warranty for production to be at least 85 percent of its rating after 25 years. He noted that the problem is not usually the panels, which can last for many years, but the inverters that handle the power and wear out sooner.

Gustafson said that this installation has smaller “string inverters” rather one or two huge ones that are really expensive to replace. He said that if one of the string inverters goes, it’s a smaller expense and the developers initially bought an additional five years on top of the manufacturer’s five year warranty.

Hearing this, the board felt positive about going ahead with exploring the purchase. The process allows 120 days to get an appraisal performed by someone who is acceptable to the town and Green Lantern, the developer. Once that’s done, the town has 30 days to agree to the purchase or back out.

The board authorized Hance to sign the notice to exercise purchase of the solar field

Still seeking a police advisory board

Chester resident Leslie Thorsen asks the board why forming a civilian police board is taking so long

Leslie Thorsen, a Chester resident who has been persistent in calling for an oversight board for the town’s police department, renewed her call for just that. She told the board that she has been asking for this but it does not seem to be moving forward and that she is frustrated at the inaction. Hance said she felt it was better to wait until an assessment of the department, which will begin in May, is completed.

Thorsen said that a Chester officer will be retiring this summer and an advisory group could be helpful with the interview/hiring process. She also recommended the work of the Montpelier police advisory group and questions why it is taking Chester so long to do this.

“Government moves very slowly,” said Hance who pointed to advice from other municipalities where such groups have not worked out. Hance said she wanted to do this but do it right.

Select Board meetings to move, buried lines at Pinnacle and a dog park proposal

With the new roof and siding on, the town garage rehabilitation is nearing the end

Hance told the board that a number of projects continue to be worked on. The Town Garage is shaping up and, she added, the Select Board meetings will be held once again in a first floor conference room rather than in the 2nd floor auditorium. The listers and zoning administrator have moved into the space used by the Police Department, which has moved to the Public Safety Building on Pleasant Street.

Green Mountain Power will be burying lines at the Pinnacle and donating two power poles for lighting the skating rink and tennis courts.

The front room on the left of Town Hall will go back to hosting meetings as employees shuffle offices

Hance also said that a small group was working on a proposal to create a town “dog park” somewhere on town property. She said the only possible places she has heard about so far are the Canal Street Well site and the property across from Motel in the Meadow which was purchased from its owners after the house that sat on the site was partially destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: ChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (6)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Rose Gardner says:

    The one thing that keeps irking me with the cannabis decision is that the people of the state of Vermont said yes, & the people of the town of Chester said yes to sales as well. I find it condescending to suggest that the American people in our state have not already considered the information at hand to make this decision. How is it that a small handful of business owners can undermine the will of the people? Does anyone else feel poorly represented by this select board?

    If you want to talk about what’s safe for the town & children: try sidewalks. Stoners frequenting the diner for an excellent meal are really, truly, the least of our worries as a society at this time.

  2. Sue Pollard says:

    I appreciate Leigh Dakin’s mention of the ‘salvage yard’ ordinance. That has not been enforced in any way/shape/form in my neighborhood. It is discouraging that such a real and visually unappealing issue such as this is not looked at with the same amount of scrutiny/concern as the ‘potential’ issues of selling cannabis. My side of Chester is not an inviting area to want to drive through, much less live in/near. Perhaps if I lived in the quaint, downtown area, I would be more concerned with the issues you all keep addressing, but I don’t. Enforcing the current ordinances should be a priority, followed by worrying about what might or might not happen if retail cannabis entered our town. If you get a few minutes, take a drive down Route 10 and tell me if you want that route to represent Chester.

  3. Thanks Craig. I guess I looked at the little March calendar in the corner of the April page instead of May. Good eye!

  4. Craig Miller says:

    Isn’t the select board scheduled for May 4th?

  5. Thom Simmons says:

    Thank you, Barre Pinske, for going straight to the elephant in the room and the real issue that is being disguised in some of these discussions. And thank you, Arne Jonynas, for a level-headed approach to governance.

  6. Darryl Douglas says:

    On the cannabis issue I want to know why people keep losing their mind over the fact that it is close to the green, school and public library. For many years Ray Gould’s market bordered the school property and there was an opening in the fence to access the store/school. And the library was across the street and the green just down the street. The market sold Beer and wine but nobody seemed to care (maybe because they like and drink alcohol) Also when I was in High school we used to buy our cannabis in the men’s bathroom at the school. Also the Bradford inn and a couple of other businesses sell and serve alcohol outside right next to the green. Yet no one seems to care (again maybe because it is their drug of choice) and to be clear I do not use cannabis so this is not a self-serving observation. I just believe cannabis should be regulated and taxed the same as alcohol.

Leave a Reply

First name or initial and last name required. COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT THEM. No aliases accepted.