SHEFFIELD — Voters on Monday swiftly approved a budget for the coming fiscal year and changes to make the town more business friendly.
Residents said the annual town meeting, lasting about an hour, was quickest one they can remember.
During the socially distanced event at Mount Everett Regional High School, attended by 95 people, voters said yes to next year’s $3.5 million operating budget, a 4.68 percent increase over last year. They also approved the town’s $7.3 million share of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, at a 1.61 percent increase.
A new, $260,000 highway truck also met with approval to replace a 2009 model with multiple oil and air leaks and $77,000 in repairs over the winter, since it is “living in a salt world,” Highway Superintendent James Collingwood exclaimed from his seat in the auditorium.
The last items up for a vote are meant to allow more flexibility and options for commerce, town officials said.
Voters agreed with them, in a 77-6 vote, to allow individual retail stores in the “general business” district.
Planning Board Chairman Ken Smith said that the current prohibition on this “doesn’t make any sense.”
Retailers would still have to get a special permit, and the granting authority for this would now be the Planning Board.
Voters also approved, in a 79-2 vote, a new rule that also would allow businesses to operate at home by special permit in that general business district, even if they were not operating before May 23, 1994. This removes the grandfather clause for existing businesses, and also allows home-based businesses in the commercial district, provided conditions are in place.
Conditions include limits to on-site advertising and business that generates extra traffic, as well as a prohibition of outside storage. Special permits are not needed for home-occupation businesses in the rural and village center districts.
Town Select Board Chair Rene Wood noted that these bylaw changes are not made with marijuana retailers in mind, but are meant to overhaul bylaws that are “behind the times.”
“I know marijuana is on a lot of people’s minds,” she said, referring to ongoing concerns about where commercial pot farms can operate, and concerns about a possible proliferation of the industry in town.
Wood said that these bylaw changes might help do what it is many residents want.
“I have heard many people say, ‘Can’t we have other businesses in town besides marijuana businesses?’ The only way that we are going to have more business in town is to allow business to come to town.”