April 7, 2017

More Windham town council updates - New Building/Marijuana/Land Ordinances by Stephen Signor

Windham continues efforts to resolve retail marijuana establishment issues

The Marijuana Legalization Act was approved by Maine voters in November 2016. Later that same month, the town council enacted an emergency moratorium to allow time for issues to be analyzed and resolved. The moratorium was subsequently adopted for an initial period of 180 days, expiring May 22, 2017. To this end, a meeting was recently held on March 21 at the Windham Town Hall where council members discussed the status and the proposed definitions to be added to Windham’s Land Use Ordinance regarding retail marijuana establishments.

Town Manager Tony Plante clarified that the discussion would entail retail and medical marijuana facilities or establishments. “There are many issues to be considered on whether and how to appropriately regulate retail marijuana establishments,” Plante stated. “There are state rules to be developed and public health safety issues and how to deal with these. There are models out there, one of which was developed in Sanford.”

There was a series of amendments to the land use ordinance prepared for the council that adds definitions as they relate to retail marijuana establishments and to determine, how to allow, regulate and locate facilities in the community. “It’s an issue we need to spend more time on. I will be attending a meeting in Bangor, almost entirely around how communities can respond to business issues, public and health safety issues and how to appropriately deal with these,” explained Plante. 

Councilman Robert Muir presented the question on what would happen if the moratorium was not extended. “Does this open the door for someone to make applications before the state has a chance to put regulations in place or should we extend the moratorium again? Can we extend it again?”

Planted explained that there would be a couple of options, such as extending the moratorium, which can be done for 180 days at a time. “The other option is to add language definition to the town’s ordinance,” Planted stated. “This has a similar effect [as extending the moratorium] but has no deadline.”

To address the issues of safety and health, Police Chief Kevin Schofield recently attended a class with an attorney from Colorado to gain experience on how to prepare for this, especially with law enforcement. Schofield explained that they are facing issues such as the regulation of power supplies. Safety issues that include the power supplies that are needed to grow marijuana must be up to code. 

Fire safety is also an issue that needs to be addressed. “It becomes a health hazard for fire fighters, when they have to enter a building with no egress, and the only way out is the same as the way in. This is especially true if there are multiple rooms involved,” expressed Fire Chief Brent Libby. According to CMPCO (Central Maine Power Company) power requirements become an issue because a standard home is not wired to handle the increased electrical load demands. 

“I’d rather see us proactive than reactive. I think it is kind of odd that medical marijuana is legal yet it is so secretive. DHS is not willing to let us know and work with us to make sure they are upgrading and keeping to building codes,” expressed council chair Donna Chapman. 

Enacting emergency amendments or extending the moratorium was a question on everyone’s mind; and what would happen if the moratorium was not extended. On March 28, a town council meeting was held to update the status and address the subject. To preface the meeting Plante stated, “I want to make it clear that consideration to the land use ordinance will be talked about and tonight will add definitions relating to retail marijuana to the land use ordinance - but don’t commit those uses to any of the zones. It is intended to give the town some time as the state also works through some issues to understand what uses the town may consider allowing, and under what conditions.”

When the agenda item was presented, Plante elaborated, “What this amendment does is add definitions to the town’s land use ordinance that relate to retail marijuana establishments. All the definitions come out of the Legalization of Marijuana Act and that by adding these definitions to the ordinance, establishes definitions of these uses in the ordinance, but we are not adding them to any of the zones.”
To answer the last meeting’s question - regarding whether extending the moratorium opens doors, Plante stated “In effect this closes the door on someone being able to apply for a permit for any type of retail marijuana establishment where it is not permitted in town; and cannot claim that it’s a business or is some kind of use or activity that is already in the ordinance.”

Content with this explanation and without further discussion, the motion was passed. It was suggested by the town’s attorney that the moratorium be extended, but that decision awaits an update from the state’s progress. No further meeting was scheduled at this time.

Revisit New Building Proposal

Two weeks ago, the Windham Public Works garage was the scene of an untelevised meeting with council members, Facilities Director Bill Hansen, School Board Committee Member Kate Brix and the three member design team from Allied Engineering. The purpose of the meeting was to revisit the not-for-construction schematic design that was drawn up back in July of 2015, to look at the design and see if some changes should be considered to the Town of Windham Public Works garage.
“The charge of the joint project team from Allied is to review the schematic design plan narrative to review the estimates to determine whether the program around which the facility is designed is appropriate, number one,” Town Manager Tony Plante explained. “Number two, whether it is or it isn’t [designed appropriately] and if it isn’t what is the right program. If it is, is the facility as designed appropriate to fulfill that program and to review those estimates?”

In conclusion, when all was said and done, there were two significant changes that prompted further review. One of those involved adding length to the proposed wash bay that also has an undercarriage blast for the chassis of vehicles. Lengthening would provide two benefits. The first is being able to wash two vehicles at the same time and both with the undercarriage blast. The other benefit would be creating a drive through service rather than having vehicles, especially buses to back out. The plan calls for a space allowance of 60 feet for buses to back out and with the buses’ length, leaves little room to prevent backing into obstacles.

“While this would add an additional cost to the project it would pay for itself over time,” Councilman Tim Nangle stated. Hansen and Brix concurred. Board members agreed that a drive through bay is the safest option and the additional wash bay will create a scenario that will prolong the life of vehicles, thus saving money due to maintenance, repair and replacement costs of vehicles.

The other significant change, and one that has been under scrutiny, was the ever unpopular and controversial community room, which was not well received by voters. “The response was we shouldn’t be building a community room in the public works building,” stated Plante. This is not a community meeting space. “This is a meeting/team room that will, with very little effort in rearranging the space, provide space available for an evening meeting or something like that. It’s just one other space that can be used. It was not designed as a community room,” assured Plante.

To this end, a team member representing Allied Engineering offered a viable option. The idea was to install an accordion divider in the meeting/ team room that could be used to create an extra space. This would eliminate the need for the conference room which was also in the plans. The additional space obtained from this elimination could be made smaller to allow for an additional office space with the remaining left over area for some kind of storage.

Another suggestion that was proposed as an option was the prospect of building on an alternate site. “The cost associated with purchasing a parcel combined with the development included in construction, would exceed the cost of the plans as currently estimated. Logistically this is the best location,” shared Plante.  

Making changes to the location of the new building within the present site was also a subject of conversation. The current site is just less than 30 acres and is bordered on two sides by protection zones, thus leaving little or no options to reconfigure the proposed plans. 

While no direction was concrete, the result of the meeting was a consorted effort to leave no stone unturned.  Every effort was made, through brain storming, to reduce the cost of the proposed building to the tax payers. These changes were seriously discussed and considered and now await research into the financial repercussions, or more likely the savings that can be achieved. A meeting to discuss these findings by Allied is schedule for April 13 at 6 p.m. at the public works garage.

Amendments to Land Use Ordinance

On February 28, 2017 amendments to the Land Use Ordinance were brought up to the Town Council, which would allow accessory apartments to be contained within an accessory building to a single-family detached dwelling. At that time there was concern by the planning board that there would be an influx, all over town, of secondary dwellings on someone’s property. A way of dealing with that issue was to look at how accessory apartments might be treated for density purposes.

Further amendments were introduced addressing what is known as:  performance standards. “The suggested amendment that deals with the density issue would be to say that accessory apartments attached to a principal dwelling unit shall be counted toward the zoning maximum standard,” explained Town Manager Tony Plante.

This prompted an immediate response from Council Chair Donna Chapman. “I am surprised at this. I respect our planning board but I don’t agree with this. I would rather have the pod separated from the house, and then the occupants could do what they want unencumbered.”  That wasn’t the only concern. “This might open the door for tiny houses, not those on wheels; I’m not talking about that. I think we need to have more discussion on this so I’m not against a detached dwelling. I don’t think we are going to see hundreds of them popping up all over the community.”

“I just want to be clear that the way the language is written was not part of what the board enacted on. All they acted on was the issue itself, whether detached accessory apartments would be allowed,” Plante explained. “This will be the primary agenda for the next meeting scheduled on March 28. It is on the agenda without the language you have today,” agreeing with Chapman, Plante continued. “I agree with Chapman. I don’t think we are going to see things popping up immediately but I think we have an opportunity to look at this and see how things go.”

Chapman stated that the Council was becoming overly regulatory in these instances. “We may have a few pop up but the benefits outweigh the negatives, because they still have to tie into the septic system or have its own,” Chapman said. “This might also prompt the updating of our sewer system.”

Windham community member, Corrine Watson, provided public comment. “People have been coming to me with some kind of alternative living situation; not necessarily a tiny home on wheels, but an affordable situation that doesn’t have to be attached to a family member’s home,” Watson stated.

Watson voiced disagreement with the density standards that were mentioned. “I live in a farm zone with two acres and couldn’t put an accessory apartment on my property for my parents, who are aging and live far away in Aroostook County. I think I should be able to; and as a community member it’s important to have feedback about dealing with the town on this issue.”

Worth mentioning, is that prior to the meeting, Watson had attended a legislative forum with Representative Seth Berry, to introduce a tiny home standard with definitions, into the building code. A hearing is scheduled within the next few weeks. “I am asking the state to adopt this and define what a tiny home is. I think when it is adopted it is going to play into this ordinance or propose a separate ordinance if that’s the direction you (Council members) want to take. I wanted to come tonight to share this and spread awareness and answer any question you may have,” stated Watson.

Currently there are many people who live in tiny homes, both with and without wheels. “They’ve come up with great alternatives for either no sewer or composting toilets; also water filtration systems, so they don’t have to tie into the sewer system. It’s an affordable alternative for separate living on someone’s property,” concluded Watson.

Exactly one month later, on March 28, a meeting was held to approve the amendments. Prior to the vote, clarity was placed on the potential issue of meeting building codes. As Plante explained, “Manufactured homes have to meet their own codes and my understanding is they are somewhat different, so our code enforcement officers are not able to visually inspect them. But, manufactured homes are routinely installed in Windham and everywhere around the state; and they are required to meet code when they are installed on a site.” To further clarify and dismiss doubts Plante concluded, “That installation, with my understanding, is still subject to inspection but not the building itself.”  
As proposed, the ordinance amendment would allow a detached accessory apartment in a separate accessory building as long as there is also a principle single family dwelling on the property; and as long as it is no more than 600 square feet and occupied by no more than three people.

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