Marijuana Dispensaries Withdraw For Now, Selectmen Need More Info On Second Attempt At Drew Gardens Restaurant

If there’s one word to describe Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, a good case could be made for that word being “slowly.”

On perhaps the two biggest issues before the board, they stressed the use of caution before making any decision.

The first of those big issues was the return of Ebi Masalehdan’s restaurant proposal on 66-68 Boston Rd., better known as the former Drew Gardens parcel.

Masalehdan and his team returned with a new restaurant proposal totaling 20,000 square feet in interior floor space, a 37 percent decrease from his prior application before the board.

The height of the roof was also reduced by ten feet, the number of parking spaces proposed were cut by 17 and the building’s basement was removed, making it lower to the ground and harder to see from Boston Road due to a slope heading toward the edge of the property.

Domenic Sicari points at the proposed restaurant as it would have looked in its first iteration (left) and what is being proposed now (right)

Domenic Sicari points at the proposed restaurant as it would have looked in its first iteration (left) and what is being proposed now (right)

In the new proposal, Masalehdan also proposed to reimburse the town for the money it spent to obtain the agricultural preservation restriction on the southern third of the property in addition to promising to spending several hundred thousand dollars beautifying the property and adding sidewalks along Boston Road.

Although not in attendance, Selectman Don Siriani voiced concerns over possible legal questions relating to the agricultural preservation restriction on the property, particularly concerns over a portion of the Massachusetts State Constitution citing that a two-thirds vote of the state legislature is required before any agricultural preservation restriction can be removed.

Siriani’s motion to request additional written information from town counsel regarding any potential legal risks under local or state laws regarding the procedure with the property was unanimously approved.  Board Chairman Kelly Ross asked Siriani to submit his current set of questions regarding the process to town counsel by the end of the week.

Members of the public also voiced their viewpoints regarding the new proposal, mainly in opposition to the concept. Boston Road residents Bob Krankiewicz and Robert Jefferies spoke in opposition to the new proposal, with Jefferies criticizing the proposal on a variety of fronts ranging from the proposal being an attempt to circumvent the property’s status as a residentially zoned lot to the procedural issues that shouldn’t allow the matter to be voted upon at Special Town Meeting in October.

However, the proposal also had supporters. Keith Bohne, the original grantor of the agricultural preservation restriction and owner of the property until the 1990s, said that with the property’s value and the amount of effort needed to renovate it back into something that could be cultivated, the restaurant is the best option for the property.

“When you put the restaurant on there, it makes the agriculture possible,” he said. “I lived on that land for 35 years and cannot do agriculture on that you cannot make a living on that piece of land with agriculture. The only way you can make a living on that piece of land is with an income generator.”

Outside of Siriani’s motion, no action was taken by the board, with further deliberation on the issue likely in the upcoming months.

Another word that could potentially be used to describe the major items from the meeting was “values.”

During the Drew Gardens discussion, Siriani asked if the value associated with an area known as the “Gateway to Westford” should be one of profit or one of the town’s beauty and agricultural heritage. That question of what Westford should value reemerged as the board revisited whether to grant a letter of support or non-opposition to a pair of proposed medical marijuana dispensaries.

On one side of the argument, opponents cited the value of patience, citing that an upcoming state referendum on recreational marijuana may drastically change the process regarding marijuana dispensaries. They also cited concerns voiced from law enforcement officials elsewhere in the state who’ve had dispensaries come to their towns.

Supporters talked about whether the town instead values empathy for those with illnesses like seizures and cancer who have found relief from medical marijuana or if the town values the opinions of those who voted to approve medical marijuana dispensaries in a state referendum several years ago.

However, the sides were not black and white. Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet said the issue was a personal one for her. She reiterated that what the Selectmen were voting on was not to approve a medical marijuana dispensary, but only to state that the dispensaries proposed were allowed under town bylaws and where they were proposed were allowed under town zoning bylaws. Still, she couldn’t vote for the letters since town zoning bylaws only allow one dispensary in town and since both proposed dispensaries met the requirements for the letter, it was unclear whether to vote for both dispensaries or neither or choose arbitrarily between one or the other.

Ultimately, both attorneys representing the dispensaries chose to withdraw their applications rather than have the Selectmen vote in opposition to the letter, but the possibility of new applications was left open pending future developments.