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Planning Board Votes on Hot-Button Warrant Articles

Oct 30, 2019 08:53AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Articles on warrant pretty much guarantee interesting, possibly contentious, town meeting

The first thing Chairman William O'Connell did at the Bellingham Planning Board's Oct. 10 meeting was to announce that he was changing the order of the discussions and public hearings from that which was identified on their agenda. Article 10, which calls for rezoning of a section of Hartford Avenue from residential to business, was petitioned by Kevin Meehan, owner of Imperial Auto Dealerships in Mendon. (For background on this, read Amy Bartelloni's article, Meehan Holds Info Session on Proposed Hartford Ave Rezoning, (available here or on page 18 of the print edition.)

Meehan's attorney, Joseph Antonellis, briefly summarized the presentation given at the information session and the Board quickly gave the many audience members a chance to be heard.

A few residents whose homes are right on Hartford Avenue spoke in favor of the rezoning, saying that they would otherwise never be able to sell their homes because the traffic is so bad. "Hartford Avenue is no longer a residential area," noted one woman whose home was built in 1712.  Hartford Ave. resident Jeanne Donnelly said that her postal carrier told her that "Delivering your mail is my daily brush with death," because it is so difficult to get into and out of her driveway.

Many Cedar Hill residents spoke against the rezoning, saying that they bought their homes in residential neighborhoods and they want to keep it that way, that the traffic is bad enough already, and if the rezoning was approved and Meehan put in the gas station and country store he is proposing, traffic would be unbearable and the number of accidents would increase. One man noted that there are already 3 gas stations in that immediate proximity.  Dawn Marie Cole of Cedar Hill Road said, "If you could magically make more lanes [on Hartford Ave.], then it would be alright, but you can't."

Vice Chairman Brian Salisbury posed the question, "Do you want no more business development and higher taxes?" but then followed that up by saying that he doesn't feel this is the correct usage of this area at this time.

In the end, the Planning Board voted unanimously to not recommend this article. It will require a 2/3 majority vote in favor in order to approve the rezoning. If defeated, it cannot be proposed again for two years. O'Connell advised people to attend the town meeting and vote but also cautioned them not to leave before the end of the meeting because articles can be brought back to the floor for reconsideration.

Article 7 would amend a zoning bylaw covering marijuana establishments in order to allow marijuana cultivators to also be able to manufacture products at their facility. This would not include retail sales. The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend this article.

Article 8 is being proposing by former Bellingham resident Steven Mandile to amend the bylaw to allow for retail sales of marijuana in industrially zoned areas. Mandile is a disabled veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His parents still live in Bellingham, but now lives in Uxbridge and serves on that town's Board of Selectmen.

In order to sell marijuana, one must have a license from the Commonwealth and (if this article were approved) a special permit from the Bellingham Planning Board. Mandile has another retailer as a mentor to help him with his plan.

More than one resident shared the opinion that "Bellingham is not ready for retail sales yet." Several people spoke at length in opposition, concerned that people would use the products immediately, even while driving, and be a hazard on the road. Or that the buyer would take the products home and use them or leave them out in front of young children.

Mandile said that the state requires very strict control and monitoring of marijuana sales. The products cannot be consumed on site, nor can they be delivered; there are warnings on all of the products. He discussed his own injuries and experience with prescription drugs for pain management, noting that the use of cannabis has allowed him to eliminate most of those medications.

Retired school teacher Pauline Hamwey spoke vehemently against this proposal, predicting that its passage "will destroy the youth in this town." Ken Hamwey also spoke against it, relaying the story of a state trooper who was killed on the side of Rte. 495 by a driver high on marijuana.   

Board member Dennis Trevino said that he feels the town isn't ready for retail sales. Salisbury agreed that Mandile would have "an uphill battle," but that he equated the sale of marijuana with the sale of alcohol. "You can buy strong liquor or Bud Light, you can drink it in the car or wait until you get home, you can drink in front of your kids or wait until they go to bed. I don't see a huge difference." He further said that he was in favor of passing the article because its a business that is highly regulated, run by professional business people and that this is "a golden moment to position ourselves," noting that in five years, retail shops will be everywhere and it'll be too late. "The state is only going to give out so many licenses."

The Board voted to recommend the article by a vote of two to one, with Trebino and Salisbury voting in favor and O'Connell dissenting. This article will also need a 2/3 majority to pass.




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