OXFORD — Attorneys representing the applicant for the town’s third and final medical marijuana permit, the party leasing the property and the town’s attorney are set to face off before the Planning Board at its Thursday, Aug. 10 meeting.
The Planning Board is trying to resolve the ramifications of improperly approving a medical marijuana grow permit in 2016 that at least two attorneys now argue has set a precedent for approval of the town’s third medical marijuana permit request.
Both sites have nonconforming setbacks to the nearest residential property line under the town’s April 2016 special town meeting revised Medical Marijuana Ordinance. The ordinance requires a minimum 250-foot setback from the nearest residential property line. Both sites are about 10 feet short of that setback requirement.
“We’re all struggling,” said Planning Board Acting Chairman Stuart Davis during an hour-long discussion at the board’s Thursday, July 27, meeting between attorneys representing two of the parties involved in the third permit process request and the board.
At issue is whether the medical marijuana permit application by Stevenson Enterprises Inc. owner of the nonconforming property at 517 Main St., can be approved based on the board’s mistakenly approved medical marijuana grow facility permit at the former Burlington Homes site, 620 Main St., that did not conform to the town’s set back requirements.
In August 2016, the Planning Board approved the medical marijuana grow facility permit for former Burlington Homes building owner and well-known Auburn developer George P. Schott of Nobility LLC.
Now, Attorney Dana Hanley of Hanley & Associates in Paris, who represents Brent and Cathy Stevenson, owners of the 517 Main St. property, says that previous approval of a nonconforming lot set a precedence for his client’s medical marijuana permit application.
Attorney Jeffrey Wilson of Braun & Wilson in Paris, who is representing Rick Beaudet, owner of ActNow GC, which is leasing the site for an unrelated business, told the Planning Board at its July 27 meeting that his client made a substantial financial investment in the town by moving his business to Oxford because he considered Oxford “business friendly.”
His plumbing business, ActNow, is located in the former Service Master buildings at 517 Main St.
Beaudet, in turn, has entered into a long-term sublease for the larger building on the property, with a tenant who has submitted a site plan review application for a medical marijuana grow business.
Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman said the application submitted by the tenant will be considered the “second part” of the entire application process to fulfill several missing section requirements necessary for approval of the Stevenson Enterprise application under the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance.
Wilson argued at the July 27 meeting that the board could approve the application and not set precedent for future permits because there are no more permits to hand out because the town restricted the number of available medical marijuana permits to three.
“This would not set precedent. This is the last permit the town would approve. It’s water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter what Burlington Homes did. What matters was what was approved for the Stevenson. Nothing has really changed. There shouldn’t be anything else to reconsider,” he said.
Corey-Whitman has said in her opinion, the Stevenson application should be denied because it does not meet the town’s setback requirement. However, she warned, if the applicant appealed, based on the precedent set by the Burlington Homes application, Stevenson Enterprises Inc. would “most likely” win the appeal.
The town’s attorney has also weighed in with her opinion that some Planning Board members say does not help clarify the issue.
In the letter dated July 27 to Corey-Whitman from Mary Costigan of Bernstein Shur, Costigan said, “The ordinance does not appear to allow a waiver from the setback requirement, so the 250 feet must be met. Any prior approvals for a similar facility do not change setback required by the ordinance. Rather than relying on prior approvals, the applicant and the Planning Board are required to rely on the clear language set forth in the Ordinance.”
According to Hanley, the mistake made in the Burlington Homes permit wasn’t discovered until he was reviewing that application while preparing one for Stevenson Enterprises that was submitted to the Planning Board in April.
Hanley said his investigation into Burlington’s application showed the applicant had not complied with the setback rules. He said if he had known before the application submission, he would have told his client to forget it because they didn’t meet the setback requirements.
Further complicating the issue is the disagreement between Planning Board members and the two attorneys as to whether the board approved the Stevenson permit conditionally in April.
“My understanding was it was conditional upon getting full security measures in place,” said Hanley.
“It’s a difficult position to be in,” said Hanley. “This is not the best position for the town to be in. That’s the reality. It’s a difficult position to be in because a precedent has been set.”
Wilson urged the board to consider letting the application stand.
“Sometimes the easiest path is the one of least resistance. … Let it stand … a peaceful way to just let it go,” he said, noting there have been no abutters present to object to the application.
The only resident present, Tom Cushman, said in his opinion, “Everyone took everything for granted. A lot of mistakes were made here. Nobody did any double checking. You guys are about three feet down the toilet. All you need is one bubble and you’re gone.”
Davis said, “I don’t disagree. Maybe we should have done some double checking. The way the town used to run, a lot of things didn’t go right. There no excuse for how it plays today … we’re all struggling.”
The board will meet again on Aug. 10 with Attorneys Hanley, Wilson and Costigan to continue its discussion and open up discussion on the site plan application of the tenant who wishes to use the building for a grow site.
Oxford is one of a number of Maine towns that decided to restrict the number of permits it would issue for medical marijuana grow facilities.