WATERVILLE — The fate of a proposed adult-use marijuana store on Kennedy Memorial Drive is in the hands of the City Council, which on Tuesday will consider taking a first vote to decide whether to rezone the property to allow such a business there.

The location, 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive, is next to and visible from Interstate 95.

The city’s Planning Board on Monday voted 4-3 to recommend that the City Council not rezone the front part of the property from Commercial A to Commercial C to allow the marijuana business to open there, in the former Pine Cone Furniture Shop.

The council, the only entity in the city with authority to rezone, must take two votes on the request and may take only one Tuesday.

The property is owned by Tod and Jewel Currie, who want to sell it to Remington Street Properties LLC, a real estate investment firm. The Curries and Remington representatives were present at the Planning Board meeting, requesting the board recommend the council rezone.

About 10 years ago, the property was in the Commercial C zone but was rezoned Commercial A after the owners requested it be changed to allow them to build an addition to the building. That addition was never constructed. The properties surrounding 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive are in the Commercial C zone, a fact that some councilors say is reason for rezoning the property. They say that, should a neighboring property be sold, a marijuana store could be opened there.

Two councilors interviewed last week said they plan to vote to rezone the property and four said they do not yet know for sure how they will vote. Of those four, two said they lean toward voting to rezone and one said he is leaning toward not rezoning. The Ward 6 seat remains vacant since Winifred Tate resigned a few weeks ago, so only six councilors will vote.

If a council vote is split 3-3, the mayor has authority to break the tie.

Councilor Phil Bofia, R-Ward 2, said Thursday that he had not yet made a decision as to how he will vote Tuesday.

“I’m just waiting to hear what everybody has to say,” he said.

Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said Wednesday that he is leaning toward voting not to rezone the property, based on the Planning Board’s recommendation.

“I can see both sides,” Mayhew said. “I can understand the thoughts on both sides.”

Mayhew, who served on the city’s Marijuana Study Committee, which drew up the city’s marijuana ordinance, said the Commercial A zone was the one zone officials did not want marijuana establishments in. Commercial A encompasses much of the downtown, he said. The council approved the ordinance April 2 this year.

Mayhew said some of his constituents and business people question whether the city wants to have a marijuana store next to Interstate 95 so that when people drive off the ramp, the first thing they see is the store.

“That is something that is a talking point and one of the reasons why we wanted, as a committee, to keep Commercial A as it was, to go along with the revitalization of downtown and from an economic standpoint,”  Mayhew said.

He said committee members discussed the fact that they were more than willing to have marijuana businesses in the city.

“We do believe this is a revenue source and the state has approved it and the city of Waterville welcomes business and revenue,” Mayhew said, “but we also have to have some stipulations and restrictions at the same time and that includes enforcement.”

He said the Planning Board’s recommendation not to rezone “is probably where my vote’s going to be,” and that the council must think about what residents really want.

“I’m not saying that a compromise can’t be made here,” he said. “It is possible, but it would be difficult.”

Councilor Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, said he will not go with the Planning Board’s recommendation.

“I’m going to vote to revert it back to Commercial C,” Coelho said Wednesday. “Everyone else in that area is Commercial C except for that little piece of property. It’s its own little island in an ocean of C’s. If the vision of the city for zoning is to make things uniform, then that would be one of those areas that is out of place. I’m just trying to follow logic and common sense here.”

Coelho reasoned that a marijuana store could open in that area anyway. If the nearby Burger King closed for any reason, for instance, another adult-use marijuana business could open in its place.

“In my opinion, I feel like you should have looked at the property and surrounding property and made a judgment based solely on that,” he said. “Everyone has their own thing, but this one absolutely looks like a no-brainer to me.”

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said he doesn’t know for sure how he will vote Tuesday, but for him, the zoning change is a separate issue from what business is going to end up there.

“It used to be Commercial C and it changed to Commercial A because of what the property owners wanted to do there — they were limited by the setback,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Like Coelho, Thomas said the area around 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive is Commercial C, so a marijuana business could open there anyway.

“So, just from a zoning standpoint, it’s better to go back to Commercial C,” Thomas said. “That’s not even taking into consideration what they may or may not do with the property.”

Councilor Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, said in an email that she understands the motivation to rezone the property and she plans to vote Tuesday to rezone.

Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, said he is still talking to people to better understand why the Planning Board voted as it did. Like Coelho and others, Morris said it seems to make sense that the property be reverted back to Commercial C, as all the surrounding lots are zoned as such.

“I am leaning toward a rezoning unless I hear something that I’m just missing,” Morris said Thursday.

He said that in considering the request, he is being careful to separate the issue of zoning and marijuana.

“I’m taking the ordinance out of it and just looking at it as a zoning issue, regardless of what they’re going to put there,” he said. “I’m trying to keep that separate because they’re two separate things.”

An issue Mayhew raised is whether a marijuana store may be located there because the ordinance prohibits such businesses within 500 feet of the property lines of religious institutions and schools. Mayhew said it appears 475 is near the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 26 Washington St., though it is unclear exactly how many feet.

Mayhew said he thinks the city needs a more comprehensive plan when it comes to zoning.

“The longer term, we have to get that done — a complete reevaluation of our zoning rules and regulations and ordinances as a whole for the municipality,” he said.

City Planner Ann Beverage said last week that the Planning Board did not have to follow specific criteria in making a recommendation to the council regarding rezoning. By state law, zoning must be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, but Waterville’s comprehensive plan does not address marijuana shops, she said.

Planning Board Chairman Paul Lussier, a former code enforcement officer for the city, voted to reject the board’s recommendation that the council not rezone the property, saying zones are changed all the time in the city. He thought what was muddying the issue for some people in the discussions was that it was about a marijuana store.

He said that Planning Board members must set aside their personal preferences and opinions and look at what the ordinance says.

Board members Cathy Weeks, Mark Champagne, Chris Rancourt and Tom Nale voted to recommend the council not rezone the property. Lussier and board member Bruce White and Samantha Burdick voted to reject that recommendation.

Waterville Code Enforcement Officer Dan Bradstreet said recently that the city is not  issuing local licenses for any adult-use marijuana businesses now because the state has not issued rules for adult-use, a process that is expected to begin in the coming months.

His office can, however, issue licenses for medical-use marijuana. If a marijuana business does open at 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive, it would have to open as a medical marijuana store and then transition to adult-use marijuana, or the owners would have to wait until the state issues adult-use marijuana rules to open the business, according to Bradstreet.

The City Council in April approved a marijuana ordinance for the city. Since then, Bradstreet’s office has received only one request for a license and that was for a business that has not yet opened, he said. There are other marijuana stores in the city that opened before Dec. 25, 2018 — before the ordinance was approved — so they are grandfathered, he said.

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