Greg Couture, right, chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen, holds a cordless phone handset to a speaker Thursday so the town’s attorney, Philip Saucier of Bernstein & Shur, could hear what Selectman Gary Hickey II said at the public hearing, as Town Clerk Angela Phillis and Selectman Randall Macomber look on. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

WEST GARDINER — Following a freewheeling and sometimes raucous public hearing, West Gardiner town officials and residents may have reached agreement on how to regulate solar energy systems and medical cannabis in their town.

On Thursday, nearly 100 residents turned out to see the latest versions of four proposals aired earlier this year that were set aside when problems in how they were drafted surfaced and to hear about two new issues they will decide at the Oct. 5 special town meeting.

While they were expecting the town’s attorney, Philip Saucier from Bernstein Shur, to participate remotely, that connection couldn’t be made and he joined via a cordless telephone handset that was held up to the public address system’s speaker so he could hear, and was held near a microphone so he could be heard.

Of the six items that voters will decide at the Oct. 5 special town meeting, three received the lion’s share of attention — proposed ordinances on regulating medical cannabis retail stores and cultivation facilities and solar energy systems.

Late last year, town officials imposed temporary bans on new self-storage facilities, solar energy systems and medical cannabis retail and cultivation so that ordinances could be drafted and approved at the annual Town Meeting on April 1.

But following a contentious public hearing in mid-March on those four proposals, selectmen opted to withdraw the medical cannabis proposals from consideration, and at the time of the Town Meeting vote, they passed over the other two.


At the time, Greg Couture, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the proposed ordinances had posed problems in the drafting and required more work and input from subject matter experts. Early versions of some of the proposals were drafted using language from other towns in the state, and included mention of building permits and zoning, neither of which West Gardiner has or requires.

When Pam Savage reviewed what was being proposed on regulating large-scale solar energy systems, she had concerns.

“I’ve been fired up about this since this was posted, to the point my health was affected,” Savage said, “because I was so upset and so heartbroken.”

Savage, and her husband, Jim, moved to West Gardiner about 4 1/2 years ago. In a strange twist, it turns out one of Savage’s ancestors built the octagon house where they live and a family cemetery is located on the property.

While she has reservations about solar — the components of batteries and solar panels are environmentally concerning to her — she values self-sufficiency, and West Gardiner has experienced power outages. Her options were either solar or installing a generator.

While the proposal that selectmen drafted would limit large-scale commercial solar energy systems that many residents have said they don’t want, it also created a system to limit what residents could do with small-scale solar systems on their own property that allow them to either be off the electrical grid entirely or supplement the power they get from Central Maine Power.


“Because we’re a small town, we want to keep those small-town values,” she said after the meeting, noting that West Gardiner doesn’t have many regulations.

She said she and her husband wanted to put solar panels on their garage roof, but with how the proposed regulations were written, she wouldn’t be able to because of the proposed height restrictions they included.

The Savages were among the resident who wanted no restrictions on the small-scale solar systems.

Town officials also worked on restrictions on medical cannabis retail and cultivation operations after the earlier proposals were found lacking.

Couture said West Gardiner’s sole caregiver store, Streamside Remedies, opened up shop after obtaining the appropriate state approvals, and checking to see whether West Gardiner had any ordinances banning such operations. At the time, it did not, he said, but neither had it made a decision whether to allow them.

“So, we’re trying to correct that,” he said.


Under the revised proposal, West Gardiner would allow that single shop to operate, with no ability to transfer or sell the operation to another owner.

In its revised proposal for medical cannabis cultivation facilities, West Gardiner officials now want to ban retail sales from cultivation sites, and not allow dispensary-scale cultivation of medical cannabis.

Couture pointed out that when allowing adult-use cannabis appeared as a referendum question on the ballot in 2016, 900 West Gardiner residents voted against it, and 600 voted for it.

Town residents remain in favor of banning additional self-storage facilities in town and prohibiting the existing ones from expanding; that proposed ordinance received little review at the public hearing.

The two new issues to appear on the warrant have both arisen since the April 1 Town Meeting where the town’s spending plan was approved. One is seeking voter approval to fix the transmission on the town’s loader, which has failed since the town’s budget was approved and needs to be repaired before winter.

The other is a proposal to tighten up the regulation of the town’s minimum lot size, following the discovery of a house built on a lot that was 90% covered by a road right-of-way, leaving no space for a second septic tank to be installed in the event the first one failed.

Based on the decisions made Thursday, new drafts of the proposed ordinances will be made available at least seven days before the special town meeting. Copies will be posted on the town’s website,

The special town meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 5 in the Town Garage at 318 Spears Corner Road.

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