WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve a zone change for part of 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive that would allow an adult-use marijuana store to open there, although the action was strongly opposed by the mayor and councilors must take one more vote to finalize it.

Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, was the lone dissenter, saying that he is a marijuana advocate but rules and regulations must be observed. Also, he said, people in his ward where the pot store would open do not want it there. The property is adjacent to the on-ramps for Interstate 95.

“They are concerned about the optic of having this kind of establishment as the gateway to Waterville, coming off I-95,” Mayhew said.

But councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, Phil Bofia, R-Ward 2, Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, and Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, voted to approve the zone change, saying the property was once in the Commercial C zone and was changed to Commercial A because the owners wanted to construct an addition on the building, but that never occurred. All the surrounding parcels are in the Commercial C zone and any one of those could open a marijuana store there, they said.

“It just makes sense to go back to rezoning to C,” Smith said.

Mayor Nick Isgro argued throughout the discussion to not rezone. He also added an agenda item for the council meeting seeking an amendment to the city’s marijuana ordinance that would limit the number of adult-use marijuana shop permits issued across all zones to three.

But councilors were not biting on Tuesday, saying the market will dictate how many shops the city can sustain.

“I don’t want to lose any ability to get some tax revenue back to our city,” Coelho said.

Isgro said ordinances can change and he has “zero faith in elected representatives in Augusta” who always say revenues will come back.

“Just putting it out there that I wouldn’t count on future revenues, but it could be amended down the road,” he said.

When Isgro saw he did not have the support for his amendment, he asked councilors to postpone the issue and come back with another concept.

But Tom Ferris, who served on the city’s Marijuana Study Committee, stood to oppose that idea.

“I think it’s a terrible idea to table it,” he said. “I’d love to see it be killed because we made a decision on this committee to not limit it and let the market decide.”

He said it sounded as if councilors disagreed with limiting the number of shops.

“Why in the world would we table it?” he asked. “Kill it now.”

Ferris attempted to continue speaking, but Isgro cut him off.

“Excuse me — you’re done,” Isgro said. “Excuse me — you are out of order. Sit down. Your speaking time is done.”

Ferris later asked who will make decisions about who gets licenses for such shops. Isgro answered that he guesses it was first-come, first-served.

“Can I get a motion to table indefinitely?” he said.

Bofia made the motion to postpone and Mayhew seconded the motion.

The location of the proposed adult-use marijuana store, 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive, is next to and visible from Interstate 95. It was previously The Pinecone furniture and gift shop.

The city’s Planning Board on Sept. 9 voted 4-3 to recommend that the 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 is the only entity in the city with authority to rezone.

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.

City Planner Ann Beverage said recently 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.

Planning Board members Cathy Weeks, Mark Champagne, Chris Rancourt and Tom Nale voted Sept. 9 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.

Jewel Currie said before the council Tuesday that she realizes some marijuana-based businesses are grandfathered in the city, but it does not make sense to her that people are concerned about an adult-use marijuana store opening on Kennedy Memorial Drive when a CBD business is across the street from George J. Mitchell School. The marijuana ordinance prohibits marijuana-related businesses within 500 feet of property lines of schools or religious institutions.

“It sounds to me that this is all a bias against cannabis and we are being singled out,” she said.

She said the proposed marijuana store is not a strip club and other businesses around the parcel have included an off-track betting parlor and bar.

“I kind of feel like this is an archaic look at things,” she said. “Marijuana is (an) accepted part of our culture now. It’s going to be more and more so.”

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