SAUGUS — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to set a July 22 deadline for Town Manager Scott Crabtree to deliver his recommendations on the seven cannabis shops that are competing for three licenses in town.
Prior to the vote on Wednesday, the board also called for a Special Town Meeting to be held on June 26 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall auditorium.
The July date marks the second extension of the first deadline on April 24. In January, Crabtree asked for requests for information (RFIs) from the competing cannabis companies. Their responses were due 30 days after Crabtree’s request, and the RFIs then set a 60-day timeline for Crabtree and a “coordinated Marijuana Establishment Review Committee” to review the applications and make recommendations to the board.
Crabtree did not meet the April 24 deadline, and Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano asked him at a May 9 meeting to submit recommendations by May 19. Cogliano has been outspoken about the delay in the process and was an advocate for amending the town’s zoning bylaws to permit dispensaries.
His outspokenness continued at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I can’t state my frustrations with the process,” Cogliano said.
“We’re looking at at least nine months to a year before we see a marijuana place in Saugus,” he added. “It takes that long for them to get their license.”
He also said that some companies have already begun to pay rent, and he expressed concern that some might drop out before the board receives recommendations. Cogliano said one of the applicants he spoke with has already been paying rent for 11 months. He added that another had previously closed a shop in different location, but was forced to reopen because he thought an agreement would have been reached by this point.
“I didn’t anticipate it was going to take this long, but at the end of the day, if we’re doing what’s in the best interest of the town, I’m fine with it,” Cogliano said. “I just hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Crabtree said that site visits have been ongoing, and that the committee reviewing the RFIs has spent roughly 40 hours working through them so far. He said that “the board should be grateful” that a number of community leaders have stepped up to review thousands of pages of information.
“We’re learning this for the first time like anybody else,” Crabtree said. “It’s a lot bigger undertaking, I think, than any of us realize. The good news is that’s coming to an end.”
Crabtree previously got support from other board members to take his time in reviewing the proposals so he can provide thorough recommendations. Crabtree said that it has been “a learning experience” and that the research process, as well as input from other communities about the advantages and drawbacks of hosting cannabis shops, will be beneficial to the board.
“I think we’ve all learned a lot about what things are beneficial to the community in an operation like that and what wouldn’t be,” he said. “Also learned [about] different places that have different sites that are already operating.”
“That’s been extremely beneficial in being able to talk to some of those communities and their leaders about the pros and the cons,” Crabtree added. “I think we’ll be able to articulate that in a report that will help the board and give a lot of guidance.”
Crabtree said before the vote, in his updates, that the committee is putting together a draft for the report, and that some companies are still trying to satisfy community-outreach requirements before they can become eligible for a license.
In other business, three articles were inserted into the Special Town Meeting warrant. The first article aims to “see if the town will vote to amend the zoning map by changing the zoning classification” for an assessor’s parcel located at 39 Rear Forest St.
The second article calls for a vote to authorize funding not to exceed $66,100 from free cash or the stabilization fund to complete the land survey necessary to verify if the land across the river next to the cemetery can be used for the expansion of cemetery grounds. The funding will also be used to “initiate [the] design and implementation process” of the expansion.
The last article involves the town’s possible establishment of a Responsible Employer Ordinance by adopting language featured in the article.