NORWAY — The Planning Board agreed Thursday evening to table discussion on whether to approve an application for a medical marijuana growing facility until officials learn whether they can pass a moratorium on such operations.
The decision comes after the Board of Selectmen voted Sept. 7 to ask the Planning Board to delay making a decision on the grow facility until the town’s attorney was able to research the issue.
In August, Rob Laverdiere of Lewiston submitted a proposal to turn the former brick production facility of the Advertiser Democrat newspaper at 1 Pikes Hill Road into a medical marijuana growing facility. He said he would be the primary caregiver and have up to five patients with a maximum of six plants per patient.
Chairman Dennis Gray said the Planning Board would not have been able to move forward with the application anyway, because Laverdiere was missing receipts from abutters indicating that they received a letter notifying them of the proposed facility.
Around 50 people showed up to the public hearing at the Town Office, with many of them against the proposal that’s near Main Street.
Scott Berk, who owns Café Nomad on Main Street, said he strongly disagreed with the location.
“I think it’s bad for Main Street,” Berk said. “I spent the last 15 years investing hundreds of thousands of dollars (on Main Street) and thousands of hours of my time. There are appropriate and inappropriate uses for buildings on Main Street, and I think this is a highly inappropriate use.”
“I think it distorts what we’re trying to do here on Main Street,” Berk continued. “We’ve been moving Main Street in a more positive direction over the last 10 or 15 years. There are so many other places to do this, not on the street that we’re trying so hard to revitalize.”
Zizi Vlaun, communications director of the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, said she “personally has nothing against marijuana.”
“My larger concern is about how (your business) will impact the community,” she said. “I’d like to know your plans moving forward to see that you care about Norway and care about your community.”
Laverdiere told Vlaun he would “like to have a positive footprint in this community.”
“Maybe that’s something you can help me with,” he said. “I’m not looking to open a drug ring in the community and I don’t want that impression to be there. I want suggestions on how we can help.”
Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust, said she has worked to build recreation assets for the whole community for more than 10 years.
“Our dream is to connect our trails to Water Street, Main Street, and maybe even the latte machine at Café Nomad,” Dassler said. “The thought of having this plant prison, this void, this black box at the end of our town, is so uncomfortable to me and so repugnant. Norway is such a vibrant, human culture, and this is not the direction we want to go in.”
Police Chief Rob Federico said that he appreciated the respect that Laverdiere had shown throughout the process of the site plan application, and that his “one real issue” was the location of the facility.
“I don’t think our historic downtown is the place for this, and that’s just my opinion,” he said.
Federico added that at their meeting Sept. 7, selectmen voted 5-0 to ask Town Manager Dennis Lajoie to look into the legality of passing a moratorium on medical marijuana growing facilities.
Federico said the town received word that “there’s an emergency bill by the state” that is looking to give towns the authority to choose where they want the facilities, how many they want, or if they even want them in town.
“I think the Planning Board should give the select board another week to look at this, slow this down for a little bit, and figure out what we want to do,” Federico said. “We don’t want to take anything away from anybody. I think we should take a deep breath and slow this down.”
Lajoie told the Planning Board that he understood it was the board’s responsibility to look at the application and make sure the applicant is following the rules and that people are being treated fairly.
“The Planning Board has to put the burden of proof on the applicant to make sure that they’re meeting the standards,” he said. “The Planning Board has to figure out whether or not the applicant is meeting the standards set forth by the application.”
Near the end of the public hearing, Vlaun asked Laverdiere if he would be OK with having a business in town “where you knew people didn’t want you there.”
“I would,” Laverdiere replied. “I hope that people would get to know me, and hopefully, people wouldn’t hate me. I feel opposition tonight, and I understand that.”
Norway Planning Board member Michael Quinn, left, and Chairman Dennis Gray speak to Robert Laverdiere about his application for a medical marijuana growing facility at 1 Pikes Hill during Thursday evening’s meeting.