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Land use moratorium passed: Washington Town Board opts out of pot businesses

WASHINGTON — The regular monthly meeting of the Town of Washington (TOW) Town Board was held on Thursday, Sept. 9, at Town Hall. It began at 7 p.m. when Deputy town Supervisor Stephen Turletes opened it in lieu of town Supervisor Gary Ciferri, who was absent. The main event was a public forum on the cannabis law, held midway through the meeting.

Miscellaneous matters

Before jumping into the cannabis law, a donation of $10,000 from John S. Dyson to help with the review of the town’s Comprehensive Plan was accepted.

Two appointments were made: one for Justice Court clerk, of Kathy Mauro, and one for data collector, of Michael Olivet.

An announcement was made that candidates are needed to run for volunteer board and committee positions, including the Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Council (CAC).

A presentation was made by resident Gail Bontecou pertaining to a piece of property north of Shunpike Road that she wishes to donate to the town for use by the public. Bontecou suggested it could be used as a hiking trail or as another outdoor resource, perhaps to promote wildlife.

Land use moratorium

A public hearing was opened regarding Local Law No. 1 to establish a temporary moratorium  on certain land development applications that are pending or may be filed with the TOW. 

No public comment was made; the board then voted to pass the moratorium. 

Marijuana forum

The public forum then opened on the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), which legalized adult-use marijuana in New York State in March. 

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo had set a Dec. 31 deadline for municipalities to decide if they would opt in or out of allowing marijuana dispensaries and lounges to operate; the state said it would only issue about 700 permits statewide. 

Municipalities that opt out before the end-of-year deadline will be able to opt back in at a later date; but if no action is taken, both businesses will become legal and the decision will not be able to be changed later on.

Resident Nicole Drury spoke at the TOW public forum. She said she had some experience behind her as she formerly lived in Colorado and Utah, both of which have passed laws legalizing marijuana use, its sale and distribution. So far, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for those 21 and older.  

“I encourage you to opt out,  you can always opt in later if you wish to,” said Drury.

She noted she’s not against the use of cannabis, but that people can get it elsewhere and it could be detrimental to the quaint nature of the town. She added as a mother, she doesn’t want her children to be exposed to the drug. She referred to research that it impairs driving and can lead to increased emergency room visits. 

Resident Howard Schuman agreed with Drury’s comments. 

After a short discussion, in which the board weighed its options, including opting out now and opting in later versus opting in now without the ability to opt back in or opt out later. 

Considering that, board members decided for now the town will opt out of allowing both marijuana dispensaries and marijuana lounges. The vote was unanimous; a final decision must be made by Dec. 31.

Back to town business

Highway Superintendent Joe Spagnola then gave his report, outlining what was done prior to and after the latest storm, Hurricane Ida. He had checked out South Road, restored after many weeks of it being closed due to an earlier storm. He said it is now open and in very good shape.

Board members agreed to get bids to clean and possibly repair the Town Hall gutter system; it was agreed the work will be executed as bids had been obtained. One company said it can start the work soon; most of the others could not begin the work immediately. The company that can begin immediately was chosen for the job. 

Councilman Robert Audia said a new sump pump is needed at Town Hall; he said it’s an “emergency” situation.

Board of Ethics, ARP funds

The board announced it needs to set procedures to establish a required Board of Ethics, and be sure the interests of its members are disclosed. A three-person board was proposed; those interested in serving should send a resume and letter of interest to the Town Hall. 

Turletes talked about the Recreation Department’s summer season. Considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic he said it went well. He said rentals of Town Park facilities increased this year and that Recreation Director Chelsea Edson has an ambitious fall program planned with new ideas for the coming months. Trunk or Treating will be held at the Town Park on Saturday, Oct. 30, with a pumpkin painting event that follows. More details will be posted on the TOW website, www.washingtonny.org.   

Town Clerk Mary Alex did not attend the Sept. 9 meeting, but Bookkeeper Lois Petrone submitted her report, which included information about the town’s plans for their share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. The Town received $163,332 in such funds and opened a new savings account with the money.  

The funds will become revenue and the town will earn interest on it. The ARP fund is in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and meant to help communities deal with some of the revenue lost through the pandemic.  

The next regular monthly meeting will be on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. Details for that meeting, including the Zoom link for it, will be on the town website. 

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