Norton Center

Norton residents at town meeting Saturday backed rezoning the town center.

NORTON -- Residents overwhelmingly supported new zoning for marijuana businesses and the center of town at a special town meeting Saturday.

The meeting was held along with the fall town meeting that saw voters authorized up to $1.8 million for land for a new town hall and community/senior center.

Over 100 residents turned out for the meetings, held Saturday afternoon on the high school football field and lasting nearly three hours.

There was some worry late in the week the special town meeting would have to be postponed for a third time but the weather turned sunny yet windy for the meetings.

There was extensive discussion on the town center zoning.

A Village Commercial District is poised to become a Village Center Core District, encouraging businesses on the first floor of buildings, with housing allowed on a second floor. Among other changes, new buildings could be located closer to the street farther away from homes, with parking in the back.

The zoning changes, intended to both preserve the character of the center and promote commercial growth, were proposed by the planning board.

Former longtime selectman Robert Kimball pushed for no vote, contending traffic changes that would have to involve the state should be addressed first. Kimball acknowledged, however, that surely would take years.

Resident John Freeman also opposed the measure, expressing concerns with traffic he felt would only worsen with the changes.

Most speakers, though, felt the town couldn't wait any longer to try to improve the center of town, including former longtime moderator Bill Gouveia.

The center zoning is the result of a consultant study and several public forums.

The location where pot businesses could be located had come up at a town meeting in May 2018, but the bylaw passed then involved only industrial and commercial zones.

The revised bylaw expands such locations to several other areas, including Route 123 near Attleboro, the Commerce Center off Bay Road, Route 140 North, East Main Street (Route 123), industrial zones in South Norton, and business and industrial zones in Chartley.

The new bylaw also brings more regulation of the pot businesses, including hours and control of odors from any cultivation.

The marijuana zoning was proposed by the economic development commission and also supported by the finance committee.

In the fall town meeting warrant, voters authorized spending up to $1.8 million for the acquisition of 1.4 acres of property between town hall and the police station for a new town hall and nearly 6 acres on Mansfield Avenue (Route 140) near Freeman Street for a community/senior center.

There was also a lot of discussion on that request.

Gouveia warned residents would be supporting money for a site before approving a multi-million dollar Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion for building construction.

Select board Chairman Jack Conway said his board wouldn't sign off on any expenditure for land until the building costs were voted on next spring. The land authorization was needed, it was explained, to plan for the buildings.

Several others cited the need for a new senior center and town hall.

This fiscal year's budget that began July 1 was amended, with $428,000 from reserve funds, including $330,000 for schools for special education transportation and therapy and counseling services for students learning from home.

There were also building and equipment items approved totaling $326,412, including $80,000 for a new cruiser and new motorcycle for police, and $70,000 to improve the fire station bays.

Also supported was $622,380 to continue the multi-year water shed management program for the town's three main water bodies. Most of the funding is earmarked for weed control as a previous appropriation was.

Somewhat surprising, there was no discussion on changes to the town's boats and waterways bylaw, including a speed limit for nighttime hours and giving the town more control over access to the waterways from town property.

Residents also backed amending a local pharmaceutical firm's tax break agreement with the town. Alnylam, which is located in the industrial park, is now allowed to reduce its hiring target from 150 to 125 workers.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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