WESTERLY — Members of the Town Council will tackle a busy agenda Tuesday when they consider a proposed new contract with the officers of the Westerly Police Department, receive an update on potential uses of the Tower Street School building and vote on whether to approve a ballot question that would ask voters whether the town should issue licenses for marijuana businesses.
The council will also consider scheduling a public hearing on a zoning regulation change being sought by the owner of the Winnapaug Country Club golf course and take up a proposal to increase by one, from 10 to 11, the number of licenses made available for food trucks to operate in the town.
The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at Town Hall. The meeting is being conducted on a Tuesday rather than the council's customary Monday meeting time, because Juneteenth, a federal holiday, was observed on Monday.
The proposed three-year contract with the police officers includes pay raises of 2.5% for each year of the pact, which would expire June 30, 2025. The town's current contract with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503, the union that represents the police officers, is set to expire at the end of this month.
The council will receive an update on the Tower Street School building from Thomas J. Liguori Jr., the lawyer who represents the Royce Family Foundation, which entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the town for the building in January. Under the agreement, the foundation agreed to conduct an assessment of the building's condition and needs and to facilitate a community conversation about potential uses of the building.
The Tower Street School building ceased operation as a school in 2009 and was run as a school community center under the direction of the school department and School Committee for several years, eventually transforming into a hub that combined multi-generational education programs, human services and recreation activities. Shortly after the School Committee voted to stop using the building in 2020, the programs vacated the building.
Families that used the facility and their advocates, as well as some of the former tenants, were loud and persistent in their criticism of the Town Council when its members discussed selling the property and razing the building. Liguori has said one potential use of the Tower Street School building, by the Westerly Education Center, has been identified. The fund played a key role in development of the education center.
The proposed ballot question on marijuana business licenses follows adoption in May of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, a state law that legalized recreational adult-use cannabis in the state. The law legalized possession and home-growing of cannabis for adults age 21. It also allows in-store sales of marijuana as soon as Dec. 1. The law calls for a 20% tax rate, split up into the 7% sales tax, a new 10% cannabis tax, and a 3% tax by the municipality where the marijuana is sold.
Winn Properties LLC, the owner of Winnapaug Country Club, is seeking an amendment to the zoning regulations to effectuate a section of the Comprehensive Plan that allows for hotels in the commercial recreation zone as long as the hotel is an accessory use and that the principal use, in this case the golf course, remains. The provision in the Comprehensive Plan, which sets out the town's development and preservation goals, pertains to Winnapaug Country Club, Misquamicut Club, Weekapaug Golf Course and Shelter Harbor Golf Course.
The Town Council, according to the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, will consider scheduling a public hearing on the proposed zoning regulation amendment for July 25. It is unclear how much discussion, if any, will occur related to the proposed zoning amendment. The council sometimes holds off on discussion of matters that require public hearings until the actual hearing.