Camden to vote on commercial marijuana cultivation

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 12, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich

CAMDEN — Marijuana cultivation, banning larger fast-food franchises from the downtown, food sovereignty and a litter law will all go before voters in June.

The Select Board voted unanimously to send all four proposed ordinances to voters,  following four public hearings held April 9. Attendance at the public hearings was minimal, with only two residents speaking during the public comment periods. While the number of viewers watching the meeting live on YouTube­ was fewer than 25, the meeting can be watched anytime on the town of Camden's YouTube channel.


Board members approved the proposed Adult Use Marijuana Cultivation ordinance with little discussion.

Select Board member Marc Ratner said he attended all of the Planning Board meetings where the proposal was discussed, and praised Planning, Development and Code Office Director Jeremy Martin for his work on many revisions.

The work of developing proposals for commercial marijuana operations was referred by the Select Board to Martin and the Planning Board in 2018.

The proposed ordinance focuses only on commercial marijuana cultivation, is based on existing state law, and incorporates revisions suggested by town attorney Bill Kelly. A strong majority of members of the public spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance at Planning Board public hearings.

The proposed Adult Use Marijuana Cultivation Facilities ordinance limits the size of growing facilities to 2,000 square feet of plant canopy, and allows outdoor growing facilities on lots of 5 acres or more in the Rural 1 and 2, Coastal Residential and Village Extension zones. In those four zones, indoor growing is allowed on lots of 1.5 acres.

Indoor-only growing is proposed for the Highway Business, River Business, Industrial and Neighbor Service districts. In the Neighborhood Service District, only the smallest facility, defined by state law as up to 500 square feet of plant canopy, is allowed.

Approval for any facility will require a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Martin has previously said that this gives owners of neighboring properties a public forum to discuss questions and concerns, and to provide input.

Commercial cultivation is prohibited within 500 feet of public and private schools, existing day care operations, the Camden Public Library, Harbor Park, much of the Snow Bowl, and throughout downtown business areas and the Village district.

At the April 9 public hearing, Eleanor Masin-Peters asked what the next steps are. If voters approve the ordinance, Martin said, a business would need a provisional state license, go through the local process to obtain approval and local sign-off, and return to the state to obtain a license.

Formula-based food businesses

Voters will decide proposed zoning to prohibit from downtown food businesses that share a menu, trademark, logo, service mark, name or symbol with 50 or more other restaurants. These "formula-based" food businesses would be allowed only in the small Highway Business District along Route 1 that includes Subway restaurant and the Hannaford Supermarket. The district also comprises a small area on Union Street that includes Hammond Lumber.

Community members showed strong support for the proposed zoning amendment at Planning Board hearings.

Martin said owners of a Dunkin Donuts franchise were interested in coming into Camden in 2018, and concerned residents urged him to draft an ordinance to ban such restaurants from the town. The proposed ordinance is based on the legal advice of the town attorney that prohibition from all of the town of Camden violates a federal law.

Martin talked about his understanding of a 2009 controversy, when a Dunkin Donuts franchise wanted to open on Elm Street, and citizens gathered signatures to vote on a 180-day moratorium on fast-food establishments. While the doughnut franchise decided not to come to Camden, no ordinances were ever passed to prevent a similar franchise restaurant from locating in the downtown, he said. However, the town already prohibits drive-through restaurants.

During the public hearing, Joshua Moore said he supported the new ordinance, and backed sending it to voters. Recalling the controversy in 2009, he said it raised the issue of "what Camden is, what makes Camden special," and "it caught us by surprise." The public process that followed, "went on too long, and then it died," he said.

Moore supports the proposed solution of finding a zone in Camden where the largest formula-based chain in the country already exists.

He read a quote he found while researching how the same issue was handled in Ogunquit. It describes how communities "that have maintained their distinctive character and maintained many one-of-a-kind businesses are more interesting places to live and visit" at a time when most communities are “overrun by ubiquitous chains."

Board member Taylor Benzi talked about valuing Camden's uniqueness, while not appearing to be anti-business. The proposed ordinance "says, 'if you meet the specific definition, that's where you can set up shop.' That seems like a very smart way to do it," he said.

Board member Jenna Lookner recalled her involvement 10 years ago with the moratorium effort. "There was an overwhelming amount of energy devoted to it from boots on the ground volunteers," she said, which involved a petition, a downtown event and a Facebook page.

She said the definition of a 50-restaurant franchise gave her pause, because in 2009, the idea was to prevent food businesses with chains larger than six restaurants from locating downtown. However, she supports the new proposal.

"I think we need to preserve our downtown and get something on the books," she said. "It's important for people to have choices, but also to preserve our historic village by enacting this ordinance."

Ratner said he supported the ordinance, which prevents the large franchise food businesses from locating downtown, while it also allows small entrepreneurial chains "to flourish and happen here."

"It keeps our downtown totally protected, but still open to entrepreneurial businesses," he said.

Board Chair Robert Falciani credited Martin and the Planning Board for doing "a good job of balancing," and tackling the difficulty of defining the type of formula-based food restaurant to be excluded from downtown.

He said he would have preferred the definition limit to be 100, and that anything less than 50 would have been a problem for him, "because there are lots of wonderful formula-based food businesses that many states want to attract." He added that he would be concerned if this expanded to other businesses.

Food sovereignty

Martin described the proposed food sovereignty ordinance as "saying we're using home rule and we're not going to require state licensing in town if you're selling producer to a purchaser." The local ordinance is consistent with a state food sovereignty law, and also with community traditions, including bean suppers and bake sales, he explained.

These food sales cannot include retail without a license, he said, and can be anything from cheese to pickles to blueberry jam to baked goods. Meat and poultry are excluded, he said. During the board discussion, the question of whether seafood was excluded came up. The consensus among board members and Martin was the intent is to include seafood. This was added to the ordinance, and was considered not to be a substantive change.

Masin-Peters asked about sanitation requirements, and if this could be added to the ordinance. She asked what would be done if someone were made sick by a product.

Martin said he asked the same question of the state health inspector. "The Center for Disease Control would treat this like any other food-borne illness and come in and would investigate it," he said.

He also pointed out that Camden's ordinance requires the producer to provide notice to the patron on a food label, a sign at the point of purchase or a note card or letter at the point of sale, stating that “this food was prepared and processed in a residential kitchen or farm-based kitchen.”

Lookner, McKellar and Falciani spoke in support of the proposed ordinance. McKellar said food sovereignty lowers the carbon footprint of food production.

"We would be the 53rd town [in Maine]" Lookner said. She said it made sense for Camden to let someone start a business on a small basis, with "some support and guidelines."

Clean Community Ordinance

Board members showed support for a new police ordinance that calls for enforcement of litter violations. The purpose is the "uniform prohibition of littering throughout the town of Camden in its many forms," including "the accidental scattering of litter from unsecured loads and uncovered receptacles."

The ordinance covers discarding litter on public property, driving with unsecured loads of litter, providing adequate and secured litter receptacles at places frequented by the public, the responsibility of owners and occupants to keep properties litter-free, requirement for merchants to use their own trash receptacles for business waste, litter control at construction sites, pet waste, illegal dumping and maintenance of dumpsters.

Controlling litter from balloons and prohibiting balloon releases are also part of the ordinance.

Fines range from $200 to $1,500 per offense, depending on the amount of litter and whether it is a first, second or third or subsequent offense.

Board members discussed how the police will ticket, as well as respond to complaints called in by citizens. The ordinance includes a waiver fee that can be paid at the town office as an alternative to "having the town proceed with prosecution of the complaint in court."

Comments (3)
Posted by: Donald Herrick | Apr 14, 2019 17:11

so you wont be able to let a bunch of balloons go any more?  what about fireworks, this is becoming insane

Posted by: Jenna Light Lookner | Apr 12, 2019 18:54

I was two towns behind with the number 53! The Waldo County town of Troy became the 54th Maine town to enact food sovereignty a couple weeks ago! :)

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 12, 2019 13:16

Keeping Camden unique and small town-ish will preserve the historical history and quaintness. Kudos to the leaders who strive to preserve this concept. Camden by the sea is worth preserving and keep the closeness of community intact. Just my opinion. I love Camden and love the camaraderie of the citizens.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

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