Dartmouth Select Board Sues Zoning Board Over Cannabis Decision
DARTMOUTH — A dispute between town boards over plans for a marijuana growing facility on a Dartmouth farm has been taken to court, after the select board and other officials filed a complaint against zoning board members and the farm owner.
Dartmouth Building Commissioner Joe Braga and the town's select and planning boards filed documents on May 24 in Bristol Superior Court appealing a variance granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) earlier this spring.
The appeal names farm owner Claudia Arsenio as well as ZBA members Michael Medeiros, Halim Choubah, and Alvin Youman as defendants. Zoning board members are appointed by the Select Board.
Arsenio is seeking to build an 8,000 sq ft. indoor marijuana cultivation facility at her historic farm at 155 Old Fall River Rd., just off the intersection with Faunce Corner Road in rural North Dartmouth.
Because the farm is not located in the town's marijuana district, she applied for a zoning variance, telling the board that due to poor soil and a high water table, she was no longer able to farm the land.
Town Officials Argue Against Granting the Variance
According to the complaint, the town sold the 22.5-acre property — which has an agricultural restriction on it — to Arsenio and a former co-owner at a $795,000 loss in 2013.
The owners paid just $80,000 for the property and buildings, including a home where Arsenio now lives.
Plaintiffs argued that any hardship Arsenio is experiencing is "self-created," stating she knew the agricultural restriction was on the land prior to purchasing it at a steep discount.
Dartmouth Town Counsel wrote in the complaint that officials have inferred Arsenio simply wants to stop farming and sees growing marijuana as "more profitable and less taxing."
"That Defendant Arsenio has been unsuccessful as a farmer on land that has been successfully farmed for hundreds of years, or that she simply does not want to deal with the realities and difficulties of farming life, is not a zoning concern," the complaint states.
Arsenio called the filing "discriminatory" and "personal," and said it violated her rights.
Town officials also argue that the ZBA did not have the authority to grant Arsenio the variance, because it was granting relief for a hardship caused by the agricultural restriction on the land — and not relief from zoning bylaws, as is the board's purview.
Granting the variance also violates specific zoning rules, the plaintiffs state, including a bylaw limiting the number of commercial cannabis growing facilities in town to one.
A marijuana cultivation permit has already been granted for a cannabis growing facility on State Road, the complaint notes.
Plaintiffs asked the court to annul the ZBA's decision and deny Arsenio's application.
Response From Arsenio
"At the end of the day this is not about me, it's about farmers rights, and it's homeowners rights," Arsenio told WBSM News.
She said she believes the town is opposed to marijuana cultivation on agriculturally restricted land, and "will now spend tax payers money to take a female farmer to Superior Court to stop it."
Arsenio also noted that the state now allows farmers on agriculturally preserved land to grow cannabis, and she would be eligible under the state rules.
She added that she thinks the appeal from town officials is "discriminatory, personal, and a violation of my rights of ownership."
"It has been a long road already, and unfortunately, I don't expect a resolution any time soon," she said.