Five Key Takeaways from the Vermont CCB’s First P2P Networking Event
Navigating local regulations, permitting discussed in two-hour session focused on municipal relationships
MONTPELIER — Last week, the Vermont Cannabis Control Board hosted its first peer-to-peer networking event for social equity and economic empowerment applicants, in a lively online session that covered building relationships with municipalities and how to navigate local permitting processes.
The speakers included Director of Planning Catherine Bryars of the Bennington County Regional Commission, Planning Director Sue Fillion for the Town of Brattleboro, and CEO Meredith Mann of Magic Mann, who worked over the past several months with local officials to get an opt-in retail vote on the Essex Town Meeting agenda.
Together, the presenters outlined a range of useful tips for licensing hopefuls looking to establish cannabis businesses in towns and cities across Vermont. Around 40 people attended the session and provided some of their own helpful tips in the chat and during the comment period.
Our five top takeaways:
Get started as early as possible.
This oft-repeated message ran throughout the session: If you haven’t started already, do it now.
“Engaging with as many people as early as possible is extremely important,” Mann said, noting that when she first approached the Essex Selectboard, they “they didn’t have the education they needed.”
“Engaging with as many people as early as possible is extremely important.”
“Reach out! That is their job, to help you navigate this,” said Bryars. “Understand if maybe the first reaction you get is ‘we don’t know how to regulate this’. Be understanding in working [with them] and realizing they may need some basic education.”
Who should you reach out to first? It could be the municipal planner, or in smaller communities the zoning administrator or administrative officer. Town clerks are also a great start, as not only can they direct you where you need to go, they often also control some of the permits and licenses that would be issued.
“If you’re not sure exactly what you want to do or where you can ask [the town] for guidance. They can help share the priorities of the town. Maybe they know where they want warehousing to go or a specific property that might be for sale.” Fillion said.
Build long term relationships.
The speakers emphasized that your efforts don’t end once you’ve secured your permits.
“Making sure that you’re building a relationship that’s a long term relationship with the town,” said Mann. She also said to keep officials apprised as to new information and documents available to them.
“Most municipalities aren’t as aware as we are as to what’s going on,” she said. “Make sure you’re sharing the info with your municipalities. Sharing documents, for example. The day that the municipal guidance came out I sent it to every single person in Essex that could benefit from that.”
Find out what you need from local government.
Most likely, zoning and other local permits could apply, said Bryars. She outlined potential areas that licensing applicants should look at.
- Zoning permit (unless no zoning)
- Compliance with zoning regulations
- Compliance with other ordinances: signs and public nuisance restrictions
- Additional local permits
- For example, building permits or fire safety permits
- License from a local Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) if the town has one
- Similar to alcohol license
- May be the select board or another board
Also worth looking into is whether the town has a business personal property tax, and whether your business falls under Act 250.
“It won’t apply to a lot of people, but if your business is of a large enough scale it could trigger an Act 250 permit,” she said. “Just make sure from the top make sure it won’t apply to you.”
An Act 250 permit is required for certain kinds of development and subdivision activity — such as commercial projects on more than 10 acres (if the town has permanent zoning and subdivision regulations) or on more than one acre (if it does not) or the subdivision of 10 lots or more in a five year period. Act 250 has also seen some recent challenges in the Vermont Supreme Court.
Ask the right questions about zoning.
In towns with zoning regulations, pay close attention to designated areas and their use, Bryars said. In an area that’s designated village residential, for example, they’ll have mostly residential and very few commercial. Downtown are typically fairly loose in what they allow.
She also noted now that information is “coming faster from the CCB”, towns may be making changes to their zoning where needed.
Important questions to ask:
- What zoning district?
- Is this a prohibited, permitted, or conditionally permitted use?
- Performance standards?
- Site design, parking and loading standards?
- Additional standards?
Bryars addressed cultivation and agricultural zoning as well. Currently, in Vermont, cultivation operations are not considered agriculture. Activities that are considered agriculture are regulated directly by the Agency of Agriculture but are exempt from zoning.
Because of this, she said, “A lot of municipalities don’t have a lot of language in their zoning about regulating agriculture. S. 188 would for small cultivators change the current statute to say that those can benefit from that exemption in local zoning. That would mean that if you qualify for the smaller tier you would be exempt from local permitting. That’s one version of what could happen if S. 188 passes.”
Give yourself time to navigate the process.
Fillion suggested that licensing applicants give themselves as much time as possible to navigate permitting, in order to allow room for board meetings, application processing and appeals.
She noted that if you want to get an item on a committee’s meeting agenda, you must submit it at least 30 days in advance. Then, after that, allow time for processing and potential appeals.
For example, she said, in Brattleboro, if you wanted to open a retail shop in downtown in an existing retail space, “A zoning admin has 30 days [from receipt of application] to issue that permit. After that if there’s an appeal, that’s more time. Even a straight up zoning permit. you’re probably looking at 45 days.”
She also encouraged attendees to involve themselves at the local level.
“There’s public hearings at the planning commission and select board level. If you’re paying attention to whatever town you want to participate in you can be a part of the process, attend those meetings to help shape it and give your advice.”