Four years ago, the Annual Town Meeting voted unanimously without discussion in support of an article that would ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Saugus.
Monday night, the 50-member-body is expected to revisit that issue and consider an article initiated by Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano that would overturn that 2018 vote.
Town Meeting members are also expected to consider an article authored by Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Joe Vecchione that would create an approvals process for murals and public art installations.
Article 31 (murals and public art) and Article 36 (recreational marijuana) are expected to draw the most robust and contentious debate when Town Meeting convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the second floor auditorium at Town Hall. Members have already voted on 28 of the 38 warrant articles as members convene for their fourth session.
Monday night’s proceedings will also include a Special Town Meeting to Consider two financial articles. One of the measures seeks confirmation of a May 2021 vote to authorize the borrowing of $1.2 million to pay costs of funding the stormwater program. A second article seeks money to match the town’s Asset Management Planning Grant.
A majority of the selectmen contacted by The Saugus Advocate earlier this year said they would support the introduction of an article that would permit the sale of recreational marijuana in the town.
“I just think that there’s a ton of money out there that we’re not getting that we could certainly use for different projects around town,” Cogliano told his colleagues before filing a last-minute article which would allow retail marijuana shops in town.
“It just doesn’t make any sense that we don’t get one of these shops Saugus,” Cogliano said in an interview later.
“I think we’re missing out on upwards of a million dollars or more for the town by not getting involved in marijuana sales. And we need to do something about it,” he said.
Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini has gone on social media to embrace the allowance of retail marijuana shops in Saugus as a positive benefit for the town.
“When the decision was first made to not allow it, the whole concept was new and really hadn’t been tested locally,”Cicolini said in an interview with The Saugus Advocate earlier this year.
“Since then, we have seen so many new shops open around us in neighboring communities where they are on the border of Saugus. The issue is the other communities are reaping the benefits financially and Saugus gets nothing,”Cicolini said.
“We have significant budget issues moving forward with the new vocational school impact, higher tipping fees, increases in utilities and the town needs other forms of revenue and can no longer rely on new growth and the tax levy to maintain level services. I fully support recreational marijuana being allowed in Saugus with an expanded overlay area to define where the shop can be placed.”
Not everyone on the board supports efforts to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in town.
Selectman Michael Serino said the question of whether to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in Saugus ought to be decided by the people of Saugus – not by selectmen or Town Meeting members.
“At this point, I get it – people probably want it now,” Serino said in a previous interview.
“But where the town voted against it six years ago, I would not support this measure right now. I would have to abide by the people of the community. What I would suggest is put it back on the ballot. And if it passes, I would support it then,” Serino said.
“But right now, I’m going to abide by the wishes of the people who voted for it,” he said.
In 2016, Saugus voters — by a margin of 53 percent — opposed Question 4, the measure that Massachusetts voters adopted statewide, thus legalizing the sale of commercial marijuana throughout the state.
But legislation passed a year later (2017) and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker allows towns like Saugus that opposed commercial pot sales to “opt out.”
Voters statewide approved Question 4 by a 54-percent margin, allowing the possession, use, distribution, and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by persons age 21 and older.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend passage of the article to allow recreational pot sales in Saugus.
A pitch for public art
Under the town’s current Zoning By-Laws, the mural on the building of Cap World, located on Route 1 North, is considered a sign that needs to be covered up or removed.
But a proposed Town Meeting article authored by Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Joseph Vecchione would change the zoning laws to distinguish it as a mural or “public art”
Vecchione said he was already working on the article before the Cap World situation arose. .
“As you know, a prominent example which illustrates just one of the reasons why I’m bringing this article forward was the recent ZBA decision which resulted in the Cap World mural which depicts a colorful homage to prominent Route 1 landmarks being rendered a ‘sign’ and therefore non-compliant with our signage regulations relating to coverage and maximum colors,” Vecchione told The Saugus Advocate earlier this year.
Vecchione says he hopes the article will give the ZBA a more black and white definition of “signage” in Saugus and how it’s distinguished from “public art” and “murals,” noting “We have de-facto banned public art for years.”
“By establishing criteria for murals and public art in Saugus – something many towns and cities around us have adopted, but remains absent in Saugus’ zoning bylaws – we can have a process to regulate the application of murals to ensure they are appropriate in scale and do not adversely impact public safety,” he said.
“I’ll make a point: If you stripped Cap World of all of its signage and kept just the mural, would you know it was Cap World? If the answer is no, it’s not a sign.”
The Planning Board voted to recommend passage of the article.