Voters to tackle pot, police, big money requests

  • Citrix cannabis buds, one of four flowering strains offered at marijuana dispensaries. file photo by matt Burkhartt

Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2018

ATHOL — Decisions involving marijuana establishments, release of police officers from Civil Service, the borrowing of $10 million for the school district, and the disposal of the former Pleasant Street School top the 15-article special town meeting warrant residents will address on Monday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Building at Town Hall.

Voters will be asked to release the police department’s full-time officers from Civil Service requirements. The town approved release of its part-time officers last fall. Chief Russell Kleber previously said it would allow more flexibility in hiring new officers, shorten the timeline to get them on the force, and ensure more local input and control in the hiring process.

Voters will be asked first to rescind the vote taken in 1916 to include full-time police officers under the Civil Service law and regulations and approve a request to file a petition for special legislation to remove the full-time officers from those provisions.


Another article requests the amendment of zoning bylaws to address the dispensing and cultivation of marijuana and the location of marijuana dispensaries, establish the processes for obtaining a special permit for a dispensary, and set standards, conditions and security requirements for licensed marijuana establishments. Voters will also be asked to establish operational requirements, special permit procedures and the site plan approval application for licensed marijuana facilities, and to approve definitions for marijuana cultivator, establishment, products, testing facility, retailer, transportation or distribution facility.

Article 14 asks the town to add a new section — Temporary Moratorium on Licensed Marijuana Establishments — to the zoning bylaws. The article states, “The regulation of recreational marijuana raises novel legal, planning, and public safety issues, and the Town needs time to study and consider the regulation of Licensed Marijuana Establishments and address such issues, as well as to address the potential impact of the State regulations on local zoning and to undertake a planning process to consider amending the Athol Zoning Bylaw regarding regulation of Licensed Marijuana Establishments.”

According to the warrant, this temporary moratorium on the use of land and structures “will allow sufficient time to address the effects of such structures and uses in the Town and to enact bylaws in a consistent manner.”

Voters will also be asked to add a new section — Licensed Marijuana Establishments — that determines the number of facilities allowed, including marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, product manufacturers and retailers within the town to not exceed 20 percent the number of licenses issued for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages.

Pleasant Street School

The warrant includes an article asking if voters will authorize the selectmen to dispose of, by sale or lease, a portion or the entirety of the land and improvements known as the Pleasant Street School at 1060 Pleasant St.

The town invited proposals to enhance the surrounding community by providing a redevelopment and building re-use plan that is consistent with the residential character of the neighborhood and the middle and elementary school campus to the rear of the property and aims to preserve the school’s structure, while proposing the utilization of green building technologies that offer job opportunities, equity investments and education and recreation uses.

Early in the process, the Athol-Orange Baptist Church expressed interest in the space. The owners of LaunchSpace, a 10,000-square-foot workshop space on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center, also expressed interest.

Other articles

The town will be asked to give approval to lease a portion of the former municipal landfill site at 1010 West Royalston Road for any lawful purpose for up to 30 years.

The town will decide on disposal of the Bates Power Reservoir Dam and property, located in Phillipston, by sale, lease or gift.

The appropriation of $2,640,000, whether by taxation, borrowing or transfer from available funds, is requested for the design, engineering and repairs to the Exchange Street bridge; the roof of the Department of Public Works barn ($575,000), and construction and reconstruction of the Pleasant Street sidewalk from main Street to the school campus access ($280,000).

The borrowing of $10,018,786 authorized by the Athol-Royalston Regional School district to pay for repairs of the roof, windows, boiler and exterior doors at the Athol High School is also on the warrant.

The district was recently approved for a $7,259,839 school construction grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Accelerated Repair Program project. Approval from the MSBA means the state will cover 79.58 percent of the project’s cost. Athol will pay 18 percent, and district town Royalston will be responsible for the remaining 2 percent.

The town will be asked to amend the bylaw pertaining to the pay structure for custodial, library technicians and library pages, deleting hourly minimum and maximum wages and replacing the section with grade/step wages per the Service Employees International Union collective bargaining agreement.

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