HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said he has asked City Council President John Michitson to postpone Tuesday’s vote on a medical marijuana zone due to a jam-packed meeting agenda that includes several other highly debated items.
Fiorentini also said City Solicitor William Cox is away and cannot attend the meeting. Cox has been working with the council to review possible dispensary locations and to navigate the state’s new and evolving rules for the facilities.
But Michitson, based on feedback from other councilors, said he plans to let councilors decide whether to go forward with the zoning vote at the meeting. He said he does not expect the council to postpone the matter. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
“The A&F Committee has had a transparent process and will likely move forward with the agenda item, instead of postponing it,” Michitson said Monday afternoon in an email to The Eagle-Tribune.
Tuesday’s agenda also includes several tax-related matters. Councilors are scheduled to set the residential, commercial and industrial tax rates, deciding how homeowners and business owners will share this year’s property tax increase. They are also expected to vote on a proposal to give Southwick Clothing a tax break to help the company’s move next door to the vacant Lowe’s building in the Broadway Business Park off Route 97.
Other proposals before the council Tuesday night include a request from Wingate Healthcare to build a two-story assisted-living facility with 90 units on vacant land next to its existing nursing home at 190 North Ave., a proposal opposed by neighbors to convert a vacant and dilapidated former commercial building in at 13 High St. area into an apartment complex, and several items related to downtown’s $68 million Harbor Place development that includes demolition of the old Woolworth building and eventually opening a UMass Lowell campus there.
After more than a year of debate and scouring the city for the best location for a medical marijuana dispensary, the council’s Administration and Finance Committee voted last month to designate a portion of the Broadway Business Park — home to a Target Store, a vacant Lowe’s building and several manufacturing companies including Southwick Clothing — as its preferred site.
Councilor Colin LePage, chairman of the Administration & Finance Committee, said the committee’s recommendation carves out a portion of the Broadway park that includes only one existing building, the Hans Kissle food manufacturing plant at 9 Creek Brook Drive. The full council can amend the zone to include any buildings in the park, however.
The commercial park on Computer Drive, which is just off Interstate 495’s Exit 50, is less than a mile from the high school in the northwestern section of Haverhill.
A temporary ban against dispensaries in Haverhill has been in effect for more than a year and expires at midnight Tuesday. Councilors must extend the moratorium or approve a dispensary zone. They can adopt the Administration and Finance Committee’s recommendation or choose another location.
The state’s medical marijuana law, approved by voters in November 2012, allows for up to 35 state-licensed dispensaries authorized to grow, process and sell marijuana to patients with a doctor’s prescription.
The state Department of Public Health has given provisional certificates to 15 statewide applicants, including a company called Healthy Pharms to operate a dispensary in Haverhill. Regulators have said they expect the first dispensaries to begin opening this winter.
Healthy Pharms’ original Haverhill proposal was based on its plan to open a dispensary in an old furniture building in the Hale Street industrial area near Lafayette Square. Councilors opposed that location, however, citing heavy traffic in the area, its proximity to homes and its distance from highways. The company’s application projects up to 300 customers per day will visit a Haverhill dispensary, many from surrounding communities. Police Chief Alan DeNaro is among several officials who oppose Hale Street for the dispensary, but the council could still adopt that area for the dispensary zone.
Healthy Pharms has the option to open a facility in any zone established for a dispensary. The company is expected to quickly file a request with the council for a special permit to operate the facility as soon as the zone is set, city officials said.
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