ATTLEBORO — Marijuana businesses tend to stir up controversy and now a proposal to allow retail marijuana shops in business zones in Attleboro has reignited the flame.
The proposal calls for retail pot shops to be allowed in general business and planned highway business zones with a special permit from the zoning board.
The public hearing was held on the matter last week before the city council and it attracted a crowd.
Some spoke vehemently in favor of the change and some were strongly against it.
Currently, all kinds of marijuana businesses are restricted to industrial zones.
They were put in industrial zones largely for security reasons.
Attorney Peter D’Agostino spoke in favor of moving them out of industrial zones.
“This seems like that’s the next evolution of the business,” he said.
He pointed out that some border towns like Lee in western Massachusetts are garnering millions of dollars in tax revenue, implying Attleboro could do the same.
D’Agostino argues that putting retail marijuana shops in industrial is not the “highest and best” use of industrial land
He said the city is missing an opportunity to boost business for coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses that may be located near a retail pot shop.
Blair Fish, the Chief Operating Officer of Nova Farms which is located in Attleboro Industrial Park on Extension Street, said there have been no problems other than traffic at the Nova Farms retail establishment and pushed for the ordinance change.
“They (pot shops) are not any different than a liquor store or a Chipotle,” he said. “People come in and buy their product and leave.”
Fish argued that marijuana businesses that have been in the city and have complied with all the regulations “should get a little bit of a head start,” meaning that they should be allowed to move into a general or planned highway businesses zone before marijuana businesses new to the city are granted permits.
He echoed city councilor Sara Lynn Reynolds who said the established pot businesses should get a 12- to 18-month period in which to move.
If the ordinance is changed, Nova Farms will take advantage, he said.
“We will be moving,” Fish said.
Others, like Joe Drazek who lives on Westminster Avenue in South Attleboro, not far from the Pawtucket line, and not far from an industrial zone where Nova Farms had applied to go, was firmly opposed.
“I’m strongly in opposition to this ordinance as written,” he said.
The residential neighborhood is a stone’s throw from the industrial zone.
“Residents should have more than 100 feet (from a retail shop),” Drazek said. “100 feet is too close. It should be 250 feet from residents. It should be 250 feet from everything.”
And the traffic which is already bad in the area will get worse.
“You’re going to bring more traffic into the wrong places,” he said. “It will affect thousands of people.”
He didn’t object to the business, just the placement of the business.
“I’m not saying no to the business, I’m saying yes to the residents,” Drazek said. “I think if you bring it out of the business park you are making a mistake.”
Former City Council President Frank Cook also spoke out against the proposal.
“I believe that these changes, if approved, will have a severe, negative impact on the city and its residents,” he said. “Further, these proposals are contrary to the numerous efforts currently underway to make Attleboro a better city.”
He said the pot shops would have a negative impact on the city’s effort to attract new businesses.
“It makes no sense to allow marijuana establishments in general business and planned highway business zones where we are trying to attract additional businesses and or family-centered eating establishments.”
Cook, who is a grandparent, said he would not take a grandchild to a McDonald’s if there was a retail marijuana shop next door.
“I know these sentiments are shared by other Attleboro residents,” Cook said.
He also pointed out that traffic will become a problem where the shops are located.
And he warned against putting a marijuana shop near the homeless shelter planned for 15 Pleasant St., which has many businesses and is heavily traveled0.
Many homeless are alcoholics or drug addicts, he said.
“A person who is struggling to get clean will very likely not journey to an industrial park where marijuana is available,” Cook said. “However, if that same person sees pot shops as they travel down one of our streets, or in a shopping plaza, they are more likely to fall to temptation.”
The public hearing was closed and the matter will be discussed in the council’s zoning and land use committee.
George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.