Town Meeting voters in Brookline are slated to decide this week whether to toughen zoning laws regulating the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries, or keep the current standards that would allow them, for example, next door to a day-care center.
Proponents of the changes say they simply want Brookline’s regulations to be in line with state guidelines.
Whatever Town Meeting voters decide Tuesday night, however, plans by New England Treatment Access Inc. to put a dispensary in the former Brookline Savings Bank building at Route 9 and Washington Street will move forward.
The company filed an “approval not required” plan with the town before the timeline started for the proposed zoning changes, essentially putting a hold on the site’s allowable uses for three years, according to Polly Selkoe, assistant director of regulatory planning in Brookline.
While New England Treatment Access still needs a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a license from the Board of Selectmen to open, the town’s legal council has said any zoning regulations changed by Special Town Meeting this week would not affect the project, Selkoe said.
Proponents of the zoning changes say the site in congested Brookline Village, near schools and playgrounds and next door to a day-care center, is the wrong place for a medical marijuana facility.
“This is not about keeping them out of Brookline, but finding a suitable location,” said Gordon Bennett, who filed the petition to put the proposed zoning change before Town Meeting members.
Bennett’s changes would mirror state regulations and those adopted by Newton, which recently approved a marijuana facility on Washington Street in the Newtonville section. The changes would add a provision that dispensaries be kept at least 500 feet from day-care centers and “any facility in which children commonly congregate.”
Brookline’s zoning bylaws now prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from being within 500 feet of a school, but when it comes to day-care centers, the only limit is that they cannot be in the same building.
“We’re not trying to make them more stringent than the state,” Bennett said.
Opponents of the changes, including the Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee, Planning Board, and the Zoning Bylaw Committee, say the stricter regulations are not necessary.
In its report to Town Meeting members, the Zoning Bylaw Committee wrote that the town’s permitting and licensing process will address concerns about the facility’s operations, and remedy them through conditions required before approval is granted.
Those conditions could include “restrictions on the method employed to sell and deliver medical marijuana to patients, the hours and days of operation, number of patient visitors at any one time, traffic impacts, and security measures,” its report noted.
The Zoning Bylaw Committee also wrote that its members “felt that no convincing evidence was presented on how children in day care, who are so closely supervised, would be negatively impacted.”
In addition, the committee called the greater restrictions arbitrary, and “motivated by a specific desire to thwart the proposed Brookline Bank site.”
Opponents of the changes also have said that stricter regulations would make it virtually impossible for a dispensary to open in Brookline.
Town Meeting voters last year overwhelmingly approved the less stringent regulations.
Bennett, however, said that even though there are approximately 50 day-care centers throughout the town, there are locations in Coolidge Corner and along Route 9 in Chestnut Hill where a dispensary could be sited while satisfying the proposed requirement of being more than 500 feet from schools, day-care centers, and other places where children congregate.
He said the former bank property is near schools and playgrounds, and in a location that children and teenagers routinely pass.
In a report for Town Meeting on the proposed changes, proponents said the zoning regulations had been relaxed without consent from voters.
“Support for the ballot question and medical marijuana in general should not be construed as support for its subsequent de-facto regulatory reality,” proponents wrote in describing why their proposal should be passed. “If left to stand, these zoning changes have the potential to seriously harm the neighborhood’’ where a registered marijuana dispensary is sited.
Changes to the zoning bylaws require two-thirds approval at Town Meeting.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Brookline High School auditorium.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.