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Whately voters to weigh in on town hall project, capital projects and marijuana zoning

WHATELY — On Tuesday, townspeople will be asked to vote on a packed town meeting agenda where they will have their final say on the Town Hall project, medical marijuana zoning, a new farm stand bylaw and several big-ticket capital projects.

The annual town meeting will take begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Whately Elementary School.

In total, townspeople will be asked to pay for a $4,531,629 budget for next year and vote on 29 articles.

The biggest ticket item will be the $3.9 million request to pay for the rehabilitation and expansion of the historic Town Hall.

Townspeople will also be asked to approve $50,000 of Community Preservation Act money per year for the next 20 years for the project.

The proposed project would transform the old Town Hall into a modern facility with more meeting rooms, a 175-seat air-conditioned auditorium and a fully accessible civic and cultural center on Chestnut Plain Road.

The project would erase problems with the existing town hall, which include inadequate insulation in the roof, walls and floors, inadequate foundation framing to support the structure, leaky single-pane windows that don’t open well, bat and bird droppings in the attic and an unusable second floor.

Town meeting is only the first hurdle. If voters approve the project at town meeting, they will be asked one final time on a debt exclusion to borrow the $3.8 million at the annual election on June 10.

The Town Hall project is one of four CPA requests this year.

A total of $15,000 would be used for the preservation and repairs of compromised and deteriorating markers at the town cemetery. The stones were identified in a 2013 master plan by Gravestone Services of New England.

The town will also be asked to spend $4,748 of CPA money for its share of the repairs to the Frontier school’s tennis courts. The full cost for the four Frontier towns is $33,000.

For $2,400, the Whately Historical Society would digitize the second part of the oral history project it has been developing this year.

Several capital projects, recommended by the Capital Planning Committee, are also up for consideration.

The town will be asked to fund $23,800 for replacement of windows in the S.W. Dickinson Library, $12,550 to update the town code books and create an online version, $16,110 for additional outside lighting at the Whately Elementary School and $20,000 for the transfer station repair around the recycle bins.

Another $60,000 would support an emergency generator and wiring at the Whately Elementary School, which would allow it to be used as an emergency shelter. Anther $11,000 would be used to update current digitized assessor maps and put the maps and property record cards online. An additional $8,700 would be used to replace the barrier gate and repair the existing split rail fence at the Herlihy Park and $5,000 would support installation of a foundation for donated dugouts at the park

Lastly, the townspeople will be asked to pay $155,000 to buy a dump truck with a sander and plow for the highway department as part of the 2015 Capital Improvement Plan.

Schools

On the education side, Whately Elementary School Committee is asking the town to spend $1,555,166. The Frontier Regional School is asking the town to contribute $899,072. The Franklin County Technical School is asking for $133,732 while Smith Vocational is requesting $24,300.

The town will also be asked to fund the first full-year of the new regional South County Emergency Medical Service. The town’s share of the 24/7 paramedic force is $125,647.

Finally, if townspeople approve, the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries will be lifted.

The Planning Board is asking the town to adopt new zoning regulations for dispensaries. The proposed new bylaw would replace a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers. The town put a temporary ban on the facilities in February to give the town planners time to develop zoning laws.

According to the bylaw, medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed by special permit in the industrial district. Off-site medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed by special permit in the commercial and commercial/industrial zone. The special permitting authority is the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Hours of operation would be set by the Zoning Board. No business is allowed between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.

No facility is allowed within 300 feet of a school or place where children congregate.

The town has not received any inquiries from medical marijuana applicants yet. The town’s chances are not completely gone, however. The state Department of Public Health is reviewing the applications of the 20 finalists a second time after several complaints of conflicts of interest and discrepancies in applications statewide. Franklin County did not receive a license in the first round, but eight applicants were invited to change their locations to the four counties that did not get licenses.

The Planning Board is also proposing a second bylaw affecting farm stands and greenhouses. Farm stands with more than 300 square feet of retail space where at least 25 percent of the product is made by the owner would have to go through a site plan review by the Planning Board. Farm stands with at least 15 percent of their product made by the owner would be allowed by special permit in agricultural districts one and two. They would be allowed by right in the remaining districts and subject to site plan review.

The bylaw would not affect existing farm stands.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268. or @RecorderKatMck

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