Brunswick extends ban on retail marijuana sales

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BRUNSWICK — A temporary ban on retail marijuana stores, facilities and social clubs, and medical marijuana storefronts was extended for six months.

With Councilor Sarah Brayman absent, the Town Council voted unanimously Monday after testimony by Melissa Fochesato, partnership director at Access Health and Substance Abuse Prevention. 

The council also voted 6-2 to set a public hearing for Nov. 20 to discuss the discontinuation of a portion of Pine Street. Councilors Stephen Walker and John Perrault were opposed.

In addition, Town Manager John Eldridge announced a workshop to discuss noise from Amtrak Downeaster trains has been rescheduled to Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. after being postponed last week due to weather.

The council’s vote to extend the marijuana moratorium comes after the Maine House upheld Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the recreational marijuana bill on Monday, adding more uncertainty to future distribution of the drug statewide. The last time the council voted to extend the moratorium was in May.

Chairwoman Allison Harris said the extension will allow councilors to consider any changes made to state regulations between now and spring, though both she and Eldridge expressed doubts that the marijuana legislation would be finalized by then.

“I don’t think there’s any expectation that the Legislature is going to move quickly on this,” Harris said. 

Fochesato said she’s concerned about the impact not extending the moratorium could have on local young people and urged the council to consider them in its future decisions.

“We have differing opinions, but all agree on protecting youth,” she said. “I encourage the council to be cautious as we move forward.” 

The vote to hold a public hearing in two weeks concerning Pine Street followed presentations by representatives from Bowdoin College, town attorney Kristin Collins of Preti Flaherty, Diane Morabito of Maine Traffic Resources and Anna Breinich, the town’s director of planning and development.

The section of the street in question runs adjacent to Bowdoin’s Whittier Field, and closing it would make way for a new 9,000-square-foot athletic facility at the college. Bowdoin’s proposal includes building a new street, which would connect to Bath Road.

The council emphasized its desire for nearby residents to have an opportunity to speak on the matter and understand the potential implications of the decision. Councilors also had concerns about the language of a state statute that requires the council to approve and file for discontinuance before holding any public hearings on the matter. 

“I am concerned about the appearance that we are approving this without having any kind of public input session,” Councilor Jane Millett said.

Regardless of the filing, the council cannot legally make a decision on the matter until at least 10 days after the Nov. 20 hearing, making the Dec. 4 meeting the earliest day for a vote. 

Matt Orlando, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer at Bowdoin, said the consensus after the college met with abutters was to build the stadium on Pine Street, though the original plan was to construct it on Bowker Street. The college also hired traffic consultants while drafting the plan, and Orlando said the institution would be responsible for maintenance of the new road, including plowing it in the winter.

In response to concerns that the newly constructed street would serve as a cut through for drivers looking to avoid traffic lights on Bath Road, Morabito said field tests conducted by Maine Traffic Resources disproved such theories. 

“The only people it might benefit are people in the neighborhood,” she said, stating that taking the new street would be more inconvenient for anyone else. 

Perrault and Walker both wondered about the public’s knowledge of the proposal, though town staff stated other public meetings had been held on the issue, along with a site walk with planning board members in attendance. 

“I think we’re rushing this,” Walker said, adding that he thought pushing the public hearing to December would be more fair.

Perrault took issue with aspects of Bowdoin’s proposal.

“Things just aren’t adding up as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

The councilors acknowledged the potential inconvenience of holding the hearing during Thanksgiving week, and emphasized written comments from the public will also be accepted.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente1.