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Selectmen debate medicinal marijuana in Saugus

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The Board of Selectmen will hit the ground running in early 2016 with talk of the proposed installation of a medical marijuana dispensary on Osprey Road.

Alternative Therapies Group has asked the board for a letter of non-opposition, which members will discuss at the Jan. 20 meeting.

The board members discussed the possibility of honoring the request at a meeting in September, during which executive director Chris Edwards gave an extensive presentation about dispensaries, the type of marijuana dispensed and the benefits of medical marijuana.

“I feel that this is an important issue for Saugus,” said Chair Debra Panetta. “I want to give people the opportunity to speak if they have a concern.”

“I would expect people to speak both in favor and opposed,” Panetta said. “After all, Saugus did vote in favor of having medical marijuana legalized in Massachusetts.”

At the prior meeting, a few Town Meeting members expressed that they are not opposed to the idea of a dispensary.

“Hearing from the Town Meeting members that they were not opposed to it might have caught some people by surprise,” said Selectman Scott Brazis in September.

Town Meeting members proactively passed a set of regulations in 2014 in case the town decided to move forward with having a medical marijuana facility.

“They carved out a piece of town that, if this were to ever come to Saugus, would be the best section for it,” Brazis said.

The Planning Board also made a recommendation on the zoning, said Chairman Peter Rossetti.

“We approved what went to the Town Meeting,” Rossetti said. “It requires a planning board recommendation to Town Meeting.”

“I’ve done some research and some reading, and I think it’s something that’s going to be in communities throughout the commonwealth and throughout the

United States,” Brazis said. “We have the opportunity to have one in town, and I am not opposed to it.”

Since the September meeting, the selectmen have visited the Alternative Therapies Group location in Salem to gain more insight before making a decision.

“All five members of the board went on a site visit to (Alternative Therapies Group’s) Salem facility and asked many questions,” Panetta said. “We toured the facility. We asked many questions regarding security at the facility, the process in which a client took to make a purchase, the costs related to the product, questioned how insurance worked related to the different products and reviewed the different forms it takes.”

Panetta said she has received quite a few phone calls from concerned residents and wants to make sure the public has the opportunity to ask questions and voice its opinion.

Also in January, selectmen will discuss a request by the developers of a mixed-use development planned for Collins Avenue for a special S-2 permit. The permit would allow additional height for all six of the proposed buildings than what is currently allowed under zoning bylaws.

The property is located at 1591 Broadway and Collins Avenue. The development will take the place of Route One Miniature Golf & Batting Cages and could mean extinction of the iconic orange dinosaur.

“The developer wants to go 80 feet with its hotel and 75 feet for five other buildings, however, I believe (the developer) will be lowering the height for the five buildings, and making a presentation at the Jan. 6 meeting,” Panetta said.

Under the zoning amendment, which passed in May by Town Meeting, buildings can be up to four stories or 55 feet in height.

Developers presented the request at a prior meeting that took place at the beginning of the month.

“The biggest concern for me is just the volume and the traffic,” Selectman Jeff Cicolini said at the meeting.

“The more height, the more capacity, the more traffic,” said Panetta.

Developer Michael Touchette said the buildings are designed to leave a lot of open space on the property. Taking away from the height would mean the buildings would need to be extended because it would not be feasible to eliminate rooms, he said.

Panetta said the new Saugus High School project will also be an ongoing effort in 2016. In February, the selectmen will discuss the budget and vote on the town manager’s budget before sending it to the Finance Committee by March 1, she said.


 

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]

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