HALLOWELL — Marijuana retailers and street performers are one step closer to being welcomed in downtown Hallowell.
City councilors approved first readings of three draft ordinances Monday: regulations for retail marijuana uses, licensing parameters for retail establishments, and dealing with live artistic performances downtown.
The draft marijuana uses and licensing ordinance defines all types of marijuana establishments, where they can be opened and the parameters applicants must follow to obtain a license. The ordinance was rolled out in August, when it was drafted by the Marijuana Task Force, appointed by Mayor Mark Walker, and worked on by city staff.
Newly appointed Councilor Kate DuFour said some language in the draft licensing ordinance worried her. In one section, it states that an applicant’s “good moral character” could be weighed by city officials in determining whether to issue or deny a license. In another section, it states that “municipal officers may suspend or revoke any license granted under this section if, after notice, and hearing, the municipal officers determine that the license holder is unfit to hold a license.”
“Do we have parameters to how we are applying those subjective terms?” DuFour asked.
City Manager Nate Rudy said he would look into defining the terms before the next reading of the ordinance.
The draft ordinance states “the minimum setback for cannabis business establishments … shall be 1,000 linear feet from any lot line on which the business establishment is located to nearest the lot line of a public school, a private school, or a public recreational facility (including, but not limited to, public parks, ball fields, playgrounds, or other areas of public active or passive recreation, but not including the Kennebec River Rail Trail.)”
Councilor Diano Circo took issue with the Kennebec River Rail Trail, which snakes from Augusta, through downtown Hallowell and into Gardiner, being excluded from setbacks drafted in the ordinance.
“It’s used by people running, jogging, kids riding bikes, things like that,” he said. “I feel like (we are concerned about) other recreational areas, people being exposed to something, the Rail Trail would also qualify.”
Both active medical marijuana dispensaries Cold Brook Cannabis on Greenville Street and the Cannabis Healing Center on Water Street would be in violation of that ordinance if the Rail Trail were not excluded. Circo asked Rudy to include the Rail Trail in setbacks and draft conditional uses for the existing businesses, but Walker said exempting the Rail Trail accomplishes the same task.
The permitted uses side of the ordinance was approved unanimously with no changes.
Councilor Lisa Harvey-McPherson made one amendment to the licensing facet of the ordinance, dropping the number of licenses for retail shops in the downtown district from three to two.
“I think we need to balance social recreation with business and other family-oriented activity in the district,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to move up (and) it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to go down.”
The limit of three licenses for retail shops was floated in the original draft back in August. Rudy said that aside from the two operational medical marijuana stores in Hallowell, two property owners downtown would like to receive permits when legislation for adult-use marijuana is complete at the state level.
Cold Brook Cannabis is outside the downtown district and not subject to limits on retail stores.
None of the property owners or cannabis shops have retail licenses, so the lottery system for downtown retail stores would exclude one business.
“There are three entities downtown right now,” Rudy said at the meeting. “One of them is going to lose.”
Councilor Lynn Irish, chairwoman of the Marijuana Task Force, said the number was discussed at its meeting, but was not given a lot of attention other than assigning one business for each of three city blocks in downtown Hallowell.
“I’m not opposed to two, because marijuana shops are not family-friendly businesses,” she said.
The two-license amendment passed unanimously, as did the first reading of the licensing portion of the ordinance.
BUSKING PROPOSAL ADVANCES
Councilors also approved the first reading of an ordinance aimed to promote the city’s sidewalks and parks to street performers.
Rudy said the city, with wider sidewalks after the reconstruction of Water Street wrapping up this fall, will be more attractive to street performers and artists.
“That’s such a big part of Hallowell’s culture already,” he said.
The ordinance also spells out restricted areas, as well as fire safety and noise standards for street performers.
The city currently does not have an ordinance that prohibits street performers.
“There’s nothing that prevents it, per se,” Rudy said at the meeting. “This is more of an explicit definition of terms.”
Harvey-McPherson made a motion to prohibit all fire-related entertainment in downtown Hallowell. Originally, her motion prohibited all fire-related entertainment activity from the entire city, but Circo felt uncomfortable with discouraging any type of expressive art form.
“I think there’s safety protocols built in here (for fire safety),” he said.
Street artists, under the draft ordinance, would be restricted to performing between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Further, the code enforcement officer could establish “busking-free zones” after the ordinance is passed.
Artists could not operate on the road or street, use public benches, monuments or structure; and their display must not exceed 12 feet, according to the draft ordinance.
Resident Cary Colwell viewed the ordinance as restricting street performers, who have no guidelines now. Walker, the mayor, said this ordinance is designed to welcome performers to the city.
“You are specifically authorizing this conduct, and most every community does not,” Walker said. “You are invited to do this in the city of Hallowell.”
“This will make it positive that they can (come),” he added.
The fire safety change passed by a 4-2 vote, with Circo and Councilor Michael Frett dissenting. The first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously.
Ordinance changes must have three public readings before they are written into the city’s charter. The next City Council meeting, when the second readings of these ordinance probably will take place, is scheduled for Oct. 9.
Sam Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5666 or at:
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