Schmidt disagrees with hold up in Planning Board delay on retail cannabis proposal

  • The Common in Phillipston. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/27/2020 2:29:23 PM
Modified: 9/27/2020 2:29:19 PM

PHILLLIPSTON — Entrepreneur Damon Schmidt remains at odds with the Planning Board regarding its decision to delay any action on a special permit he is seeking to open up a retail cannabis operation at the corner of Route 2A and Baldwin Hill Road. Board Chairman Bernie Malouin claims a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses enacted at a Special Town Meeting earlier this year prevents the board from acting on a site plan review application submitted by Schmidt earlier this year. Schmidt says his application was filed before the Town Meeting vote and therefore not subject to the moratorium.

“Here’s where we are with this,” said Malouin at last week’s board meeting. “We’re going to acknowledge receipt of the completed application at this meeting. You’ve got to remember there’s a temporary moratorium that was adopted by the town. The Planning Board is going to wait until we find out what’s happening with the Attorney General.”

The state Attorney General’s office is reviewing the moratorium but has not yet issued a decision on whether it can indeed be enforced.

“If they approve it,” said Malouin, “then obviously some of the things that you’ve submitted may change. There’s nothing that we can do about that at this time.”

Schmidt told the board he had sent an email to Malouin and board member John Telepciak arguing the moratorium is irrelevant to his application.

“The town’s attorney said at the Town Meeting that because I had submitted my application to the town before the moratorium vote, that regardless of whether the moratorium passed or not, it doesn’t reflect on us. That’s what he said; that as long as I put my application in before the town vote that whether the moratorium passes or not, it has no effect on us.

“I mean, if we have to wait for the Attorney General, that could be months. I’d really like to move forward with this.”

In addition to the moratorium, Malouin argued, holding a public hearing is problematic because nearly all local board meetings are taking place via Zoom.

“In any event,” he continued, “there’s a moratorium in place and it looks like it applies to you.

“There’s also an emergency act from the Governor of from Massachusetts that, because of the pandemic, we don’t need to be holding public meetings and hearings. Everything is put off to some future date unknown to us.”

Schmidt, for his part, was quick to point out that Phillipston had participated in a joint town meeting just two days before the Planning Board meeting, and that the Conservation Commission had also held two public hearings in recent months.

“I’m not going to get into an argument,” Malouin replied. “We’re in receipt of your application. We’re going to sit on it until the Attorney General gives us some direction, and the pandemic emergency act is lifted.

Schmidt’s attorney, Nicholas Obolensky, said he and his client understand there are restrictions, but suggested the board at least use any delay due to pandemic regulations to review the application.

“All we ask,” he said, “is that you don’t just put it on a desk somewhere and forget about it; that you start working through it, because eventually the governor’s moratorium will be lifted and, eventually, the Phillipston moratorium will be lifted, and then we would seek to move as swiftly as possible to get this project under way.

“So, with every bit of respect we can muster, we’re just asking you to please do what you can in the time you have now so that we can eventually move as quickly as possible.”

“I agree,” said Telepciak. “We could look at this now. We’re not going to vote on this now, but we do have time to start looking at it, and at a later date we could vote on it.”

The board decided to keep the issue on the agenda for future meetings, with the caveat that no action will be taken until after a public hearing can be held and Phillipston’s moratorium expires late next year.

Schmidt is planning an 80-by-50-foot building for his retail operation, served by 40 parking spaces. The name of the business will be 420 State. Full drawings of his plan will be presented whenever a public hearing is finally held.

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