Marlborough OKs new cannabis regulations

By Rob Sample
Posted 2/27/24

After a public hearing at its February 26 meeting, the Marlborough Town Board approved new town laws regulating cannabis businesses and imposing deadlines for the completion of development …

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Marlborough OKs new cannabis regulations

After a public hearing at its February 26 meeting, the Marlborough Town Board approved new town laws regulating cannabis businesses and imposing deadlines for the completion of development projects. 
The board also reintroduced its contentious ridgeline and steep slope protection law – which was originally introduced in December 2023 in tandem with the development-deadline proposal. The measures were separated into two laws so that the latter ordinance could pass independently from the ridgeline ordinance. The Board intends to alter the ridgeline proposal and will be soliciting further community input to achieve consensus on what those changes should be.
During the public hearing, Town Supervisor Scott Corcoran noted that the new cannabis ordinance was made necessary by a law passed by New York State three years ago that legalized the use of cannabis by adults. The first dispensary opened in Manhattan in late 2022. While some municipalities opted not to permit cannabis businesses, Marlborough did not – prompting the need for new town guidelines.  
“The reason we are doing this right now is we don’t have anything on our books to regulate cannabis,” said Corcoran. “As everyone knows it is legal in New York State, and we have to have something on our books to regulate it.”
The new regulations limit cannabis businesses to sites along the Route 9W corridor. The rules restrict such businesses from locating anywhere within 500 feet of a school (pre-Kindergarten through grade 12), day-care center or facility where children commonly gather (such as a playground), any other cannabis establishment, drug or alcohol rehab centers, jails and halfway houses, places of worship, or any town building or park. 
There are also aesthetic restrictions. Businesses, for example, cannot adorn the outside of their buildings with a marijuana leaf.
Local hemp grower Amy Hepworth would not be affected by the regulations because Hepworth Farms does not sell its products on the retail level. Nonetheless, the rule furthers the establishment of local distribution outlets and Hepworth spoke in favor of it. She likened cannabis legalization to “coming out of prohibition.”
“We are an agricultural entity, and we also consider cannabis an agricultural crop,” noted Hepworth. “Our mission is for farmers who grow food to also grow this crop, which can be very lucrative.”
Hepworth added that as a new industry, cannabis poses many challenges to both growers and sellers, but the new law will help both. “I really think this will lead to good things for the community,” she said.
Development deadline ordinance
The new development-deadline ordinance governs the site-plan review and approval process. It mandates that any project approvals will be void if construction is not started within a year, and sets a deadline of four years for project completion. These dates can be extended at the Planning Board’s discretion for up to three additional periods of one year each.
Mici Simonofsky, chair of the town’s Conservation Advisory Commission (CAC), spoke in favor of these new limits. She noted that the Ulster County Planning Board had favored this approach as well.
“We would agree with their suggestion from a land conservation viewpoint,” Simonofsky said, pointing out that land disturbed by development needs to be stabilized as soon as possible. “A total of seven years might give rise to abandoned projects if the economy of the time or other factors make completion unaffordable for the developer. Unfinished projects can be an eyesore and devalue properties, affecting our tax base. And unbuilt properties could pose environmental consequences such as drainage problems or undue strain on Town infrastructures.”
Although the ridgeline ordinance was not on the agenda, several residents expressed dismay that its reintroduction was identical to the rule introduced in December. Marlborough Planning Board member Cindy Lanzetta noted that the law was introduced to relieve development pressure on the Marlboro Mountains.
“I’m struggling to make sense of this,” said Lanzetta. “The law has been in effect for 19 years without issues.” Lanzetta also said that contrary to assertions that the rule is confusing, if the law is read in its entirety it is quite clear.
Simonofsky seconded Lanzetta’s thoughts. “A complete reading of Code 155-41 gives a full explanation of its purpose,” she said. “It gives a dual protection to the ridgeline by citing that a structure cannot extend higher than the tree line, as well as prohibiting a structure from being closer than 50 feet in elevation to the ridgeline.
“I would emphasize that eliminating the 50-foot protection eliminates all protection of the ridgeline and is totally opposite of the intent of the 2002 Comprehensive Master Plan, as well as its subsequent updates in 2017 and 2022,” Simonofsky continued. “The Master Plan is the document that must be followed for all zoning, code, and enforcement standards. That is why it is so important to make sure any change supports the intent to protect the Town’s economic, environmental, and public welfare. The Plan takes into consideration the overall good of all of our residents.”
Corcoran pointed out that while the ridgeline ordinance was reintroduced, it is by no means final. “We’ll probably take another month to determine how we’re going to change it,” he said.
“Neither side is going to be happy because it’s going to be somewhere in the middle – that’s what compromise is about. We do take everybody’s input seriously.”
The Town Board also approved the hiring of Matt Drake as a part-time Building Inspector 1. He will work with Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Tom Corcoran for the next two years and will ultimately take the reins of the department when Corcoran retires at a future date.
In his capacity as an Ulster County Legislator, Tom Corcoran also provided an update on several town projects under way that are set to receive part of the county’s $34 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. In Marlborough that includes $100,000 for improvements to the town park and another $100,000 for solar panels on the town’s new recreation building on Route 9W. Both projects are still in the contracting stage, he said.
Regarding that new building, Supervisor Scott Corcoran noted that the interior of the building is slated for completion in April, while exterior work will be finished in May.