Town meeting

Full house agrees town should have marijuana rules, better snow removal

By Stephanie Grinnell | Mar 18, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell A few minutes before the annual Town Meeting begins, Selectmen Galen Larrabee, Jeffrey Stevens and William Ingraham, moderator Mike Thibodeau and Town Clerk Carol Hamblet talk among themselves.

Knox — It was standing room only March 18 as Knox residents packed into the Town Office for the annual town meeting.

More than 40 people filled chairs and spilled over into hallways as the meeting was called to order but considerably fewer remained 2 1/2 hours later when the meeting adjourned. The two hottest topics: retail marijuana and the state of town roads this winter.

Residents questioned nearly every article on the warrant but earnest discussions began with Article 16, which asked what funding residents would approve for the snowplowing contract. Selectmen recommended $110,100 for one year. An amendment was suggested to authorize selectmen to exercise a clause in the current three-year contract with Brad Aitken and Sons Trucking that would break the contract, but the amendment was deemed illegal and ultimately withdrawn. After a few minutes of additional discussion, the original recommendation was approved.

The next article, however, failed. Article 17 asked if residents would authorize an extension of the contract with Brad Aitken and Sons Trucking for an additional two years. An amendment was suggested again to take advantage of the option to give the company 30 days' notice the contract would be discontinued, only to be withdrawn when it was realized the amendment and original article language contradicted each other — meaning if residents voted in favor of the amendment, they also would be voting in favor of extending the contract.

An informal poll showed nearly all residents in favor of discontinuing the current contract and putting it out to bid. Selectman Galen Larrabee noted board members can choose someone for one year but any multi-year contracts must be approved by residents.

A round of applause followed the failed Article 17 in appreciation of town officials' handling of numerous complaints about town roads this winter.

Following several additional articles addressing roadwork, all of which were approved, residents were repeatedly gavelled to quiet down as discussions of an article to restrict retail marijuana and social clubs was discussed. The article reads: "Shall an ordinance entitled 'Municipality of Knox Moratorium Ordinance on Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs' be enacted? (A copy of this ordinance is posted together with this warrant and hereby incorporated into this warrant by reference.)"

The full ordinance is available on the town website.

Making the matter more confusing was unclear language being used by those speaking in favor and against retail marijuana and social clubs. Many who spoke used "that" in reference to both marijuana and the ordinance. Residents took issue with the language of the moratorium, which Larrabee said was written by the town attorney.

"This gives the Planning Board six months," he said, to develop local rules. " ... If we stick our head in the ground, this thing is going to come in."

There was so much confusion, moderator and state Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Waldo County, weighed in, making an attempt to explain to residents what exactly they were voting on.

"I'm getting way out there, folks, as moderator and your state senator," he said. " ... But what you're voting on today is a directive to the Planning Board."

Thibodeau noted any proposed ordinance created by the Planning Board will have to be approved by residents. He said local rules can be more restrictive than state rules but not less restrictive.

A member of the Planning Board said that body intends to create an ordinance, regardless of the vote at town meeting; then it will be up to residents to approve or deny it. He said the "bar will be set high."

An initial vote seemed close as people raised their hands for and against Article 23, so Thibodeau requested an official count. The article was approved with a final vote of 27-9.

As approved, the moratorium remains active for 180 days, unless extended, repealed or modified. The moratorium states the time is to be used "for the express purpose of drafting an amendment or amendments to the Municipality's current ordinances to protect the public from health and safety risks including, but not limited to, compatibility of retail marijuana establishments, retail marijuana stores and retail marijuana social clubs with existing and permitted uses in residential, commercial and industrial zoning districts ... " In addition, the amendment will consider the potential adverse health effects, possibility of illicit sale and use of marijuana, criminal activity associated with cultivation, manufacturing, sale and use of marijuana and marijuana products for non-medicinal purposes and the potential increased burden of public safety agencies as well as the adequacy of the town's infrastructure to handle increased traffic and population.

Medical marijuana facilities and growers will not be impacted by the moratorium. The local rules are not anticipated to change guidelines governing marijuana grown for personal use.

Another lively discussion followed, as an article proposed allowing Knox Historical Society to take possession of records "the town no longer wants or is not required to keep by law." Some residents questioned the move and said the town has sufficient space to store hundreds of years of records, while others raised questions about privacy. A Historical Society representative and others noted there are special requirements for document preservation and expressed a desire to keep non-vital town records available. The article was approved.

 

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Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 338-3333 ext. 110
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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