BRIDGEWATER — The Board of Selectmen, meeting Tuesday, July 13, approved recommending a restrictive way to curtail the development of retail cannabis in town to the Planning and Zoning Commission and reviewed options for the Grange building.
The motion recommendation included the consideration to draft an ordinance which would disallow the use of cannabis/marijuana in town public spaces and municipal owned/controlled properties.
First Selectman Curtis Read said he did not think it is appropriate to have a dispensary in Bridgewater.
He received a request from a hedge fund based in Boston asking if the town would allow a grow house and dispensary in Bridgewater. He said he did not think the town would be the most appropriate location.
“I said I didn’t think that was a really good idea because there is a limited population in town,” said Mr. Read. “It was a very preliminary idea.”
Mr. Read noted the Western Connecticut Council of Governments is doing some research on what towns want to do and not do. Right now there are plans for a dispensary in Danbury and possibly in New Milford, according to Mr. Read.
“There is already activity going on so this [the recent recreational marijuana legislation] is simply a stamp of approval on the existing activity,” said Selectman Laszlo Pinter.
Selectman Alan Brown agreed with Mr. Read, noting special security would be needed for a dispensary and the grow house. The town already has issues with a few break-ins, according to Mr. Brown, who said he does not think the town can handle the security risk for that type of business.
He also cited the complication of private security versus municipal security, which may not be in any dispensary contract.
“Planning and Zoning will be the ones to look at this,” said Mr. Read. “I kind of doubt that anyone would want to locate here, but I could be wrong.”
He added he didn’t see any real benefit to the town in the long run, noting the revenue would not be enough.
In other news, selectmen went over possible options for the Grange building, which included going out to bid for demolition of the building with salvage of historic wood that is usable, a salvage project for reuse, as recommended by the town attorney.
The selectmen did not act on the recommendation, but Mr. Read said it is what town officials have wanted to do all along. He noted he was interested in the chestnut wood in the Grange building.
Mr. Read told Voices after the meeting that he is waiting to hear back from Gov. Ned Lamont, who expressed interest in the Grange issue, which has been a point of contention for five years.
The Bridgewater Preservation Association and the state’s Historic Preservation Committee have been trying to save the building, although it has been condemned for several years.
Mr. Read told selectmen at the meeting that the state’s assistant attorney general suggested the town put the building on the market for six months at a price that is all the money the town has put into it since owning it, which town officials have no way of knowing.
The other suggestion is the opposition can hire its own appraiser to tell them what the building is worth, which Mr. Read referred to as putting the fox in the hen house.
“I think this is an extremely arbitrary request by the state and when I mentioned that on the phone to the assistant attorney general, he got rather upset that I used that word, ‘arbitrary’,” Mr. Read said. “I asked them where is it in their ordinances, guidelines or case law that this is standard procedure.”
Mr. Read said the bottom line is town officials are looking into what has been suggested; however, he said the opposition is using bait-and-switch tactics to change the rules, adding another hurdle.
Mr. Read told Voices leasing the fence that surrounds the Grange is costing the town money and called it an eyesore.
He said if the town were to sell the Grange building, it would have to hire a lawyer and put conditions and/or restrictions on the sale since there is no septic, no water and there is oil contamination in the structure.
Mr. Read said he even suggested that the state purchase the building if they are concerned about preserving it, suggesting there are other historic buildings in more dire need of attention than the Grange building in Bridgewater.
“They’re saying we haven’t exercised all the options of selling the Grange as an alternative to demolition,” Mr. Read said during the selectmen’s meeting.
He noted the town had a contract, picked a contractor and notified the state of plans to commence demolition. That’s when the stated acted, according to Mr. Read, noting the town voluntarily complied with that process and that’s what they have been doing for five years.
“Now they changed the game,” said Mr. Read. “Now they want us to put it up for sale and that’s what we originally did.”
He added the state promised the Bridgewater Preservation Association thousands of dollars and the town turned down the plan to sell the Grange. The town attorney’s suggestion may force a decision, according to Mr. Read.
“Now they are saying that it wasn’t good enough,” said Mr. Read. “What would happen if it goes out on the market for, let’s say $100,000, and they [the state] gives the group the money and they buy it on the open market. The two town votes on rejecting the idea would go out the window.”
Selectmen also discussed having a special meeting with the Board of Finance to go over funding from the American Rescue Plan that amounts to about $242,000.
The tentative meeting, slated for early August, will discuss how the money should be used and the contingencies that go with it. The funding, which will sit in the General Fund, needs to be spent on something that enhances life in town or on capital-type projects, according to Mr. Read.
He said there are no real restrictions on the funding, noting the fire department and other groups are interested in getting access to it. He said the joint meeting will treat the funding as a separate pile of money and do something special for the Selectmen approved the town’s shared Resident Trooper Program with Roxbury.
Mr. Read said the program saved Bridgewater about $85,000 this year.