Portland City Council sets medical marijuana moratoriums, hires fire chief

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PORTLAND — A two-phase moratorium passed Monday by city councilors will allow time to craft rules and zoning for some medical marijuana operations without affecting pending permit applications.

Councilors also approved hiring acting Fire Chief Keith Gautreau permanently, as well as a $420,000 land sale at the Portland Technology Park and transferring a credit enhancement agreement for the tax increment finance zone at the former St. Joseph’s Convent on Stevens Avenue.

While Councilor Spencer Thibodeau recused himself from the moratorium discussion because his law firm, Verrill Dana, is working with clients affected by the rules, councilors were otherwise unanimous in support of an Oct. 1-Dec. 13 moratorium on licensing retail stores and manufacturing and testing facilities for medical marijuana.

A moratorium on licensing medical marijuana growing facilities runs from Oct. 1 to Feb. 1, 2019.

In approving them, councilors acted on amendments by Councilor Kim Cook that changed the effective date on the moratoriums from July 9. That was the date the state Legislature enacted LD 238, which allows municipalities to establish local regulations for medical marijuana processing and distribution through registered caregivers.

A second law was amended by legislators to specifically allow caregivers to open retail medical marijuana stores, and testing and manufacturing facilities.

A moratorium retroactive to July 9 would have affected at least four permit applications filed with the city.

City Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine said his staff is already at work on the zoning aspects, with a framework on prior rules on cultivation and dispensing available as a template.

New zoning to require retail operations to stand alone and cap the size are expected, as are new definitions needed for zoning rules, Levine said.

Mark Barnett, owner of Higher Grounds, a Wharf Street coffee shop, is also a caregiver, and said people in his second profession have been unfairly criticized. He urged staff and councilors to move quickly on developing new rules.

New chief

City Manager Jon Jennings said there was no need to conduct an outside search to replace former Fire Chief David Jackson. All that was needed was to give Gautreau, who joined the department in 1995, a chance at the helm after Jackson retired this spring.

“He is a modern, forward-looking chief,” Jennings said as he asked for Gautreau’s immediate permanent appointment. The city manager said Gautreau is not only looking to modernize the department and its operations, but has improved communications and relations with the firefighters’ union.

Tech Park

Capricorn Products, which makes raw materials for veterinary diagnostic test kits, will become the second company to move into the Technology Park off Rand Road near the Maine Turnpike. 

Councilors unanimously approved the $420,000 sale of a 3.5-acre lot to the company. Patron’s Oxford was the first company to move into the park, which the city began marketing in 2013.

TIF

A transfer of an existing TIF and its credit enhancement agreement is expected to return $4.1 million of increased valuations over 30 years to developers of 88 housing units at the former St. Joseph’s Convent at 605 Stevens Ave.

Of the 88 units built for people ages 55 and older, 66 are marketed as affordable housing. The city will keep 40 percent of increased valuations as part of the credit agreement, estimated to be $2.8 million.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Gautreau

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.