Developer Rob Wolf wanted the board's support for the project before he began the permitting process.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A developer is looking to build 18 greenhouses on Gray Raven Farm for marijuana cultivators to lease.
Rob Wolf, a managing member of New England Agriculture Technologies, presented a plan to the Board of Selectmen on Monday to build the greenhouses up to state regulations for cannabis cultivation, surround them with a solar field, and then lease the spaces to commercial growers.
"We're envisioning about 18 greenhouses there which will generate a fairly substantial amount of revenue," Wolf said.
Wolf hasn't started the permitting process quite yet but is expected to soon. He first wanted to see if the Board of Selectmen would support such an effort. The project would take up about five to seven acres of farmland. The company would buy the portion of the farm's property and manage the facilities, including providing the required security.
"We're going to be back in front of you with a specific plan," Wolf said.
Wolf said his company works with greenhouse companies in California to design the facilities, including the HVAC, monitoring, and water systems specifically for marijuana growth.
"This is robust facilities because they have to be," Wolf said.
The farm is owned by Dan and Sharon Bergeron, who said they have no interest in having a retail establishment there at this moment -- which mitigates concerns the Board of Selectmen had about traffic. Further, the Bergerons voiced favor for growing organically, which alleviates concern about any type of water runoff into the environment.
In other business, the Selectmen are trying to figure out what to do with 19 acres it owns on Prospect Street. The town purchased the parcel in 2007 for $225,000 with plans to develop senior housing.
"We did some conceptual drawings at the time," said Elton Ogden, of Berkshire Housing Development. "There was going to be a senior center and in the neighborhood of 40 housing units."
But then state and federal resources dried up. The property has been in the town's hands, undeveloped, since. More recently, the town marketed the property for a solar development. Ameresco looked to do a solar field there but ultimately that plan fizzled out.
Town officials have cited the desire for more senior housing and now back at the start when it comes to the Prospect Street property, the Selectmen wanted to chat with Ogden again to see if that was still a possibility.
"It is a better environment than it was when we went through this exercise," Ogden said but saying there still isn't a lot of money for new housing development.
He said the federal government did provide a boost to the budget for senior housing, but Ogden doesn't know yet if that will be more focused on renovating to the existing homes or new applications. The state has also put some priority on senior housing as well and Ogden said on a property in Great Barrington, Berkshire Housing was able to get funds to build a 31-unit addition. So, it is possible.
But, Ogden said it is still isn't a lot of funds available so while possible, it is probably unlikely at this point. Ogden continued to suggest the Berkshire Mall may be a better location. The mall has been struggling with tenants and thoughts have kicked around the town of developing some of that space into senior housing.
"It may be more competitive to do a proposal as part of an economic development project where housing was one component," he said.
Mark Siegars of the Baker Hill Road District doesn't think the mall is the right place. He said subsidized housing provides much less in return than any other type of commercial use. He doesn't want to see the town take such a large commercial parcel off the tax rolls.
"This is the largest industrially zoned property in Berkshire County and everybody is talking about putting housing on it, which is the least valuable use in the long run," Siegars said, urging the Selectmen to keep the senior housing idea focused on the Prospect Street parcel.
Elton Ogden told the Selectmen that some federal and state money is now available for senior housing, but not a lot. The Prospect Street project is not likely to receive funding soon.
Town Manager Paul Sieloff added that the town already owns the Prospect Street parcel, so that would reduce the cost to build. On the other hand, Selectman Robert Ericson said the Prospect Street parcel isn't connected to municipal sewer, so the town would have to extend that system before such a development could even be possible.
While the town remains focused on senior housing, Ogden said he's been recently pushing towns to work together on a regional plan. He said the trick with a small town like Lanesborough is the demand. Lanesborough would likely build the senior housing facility and it would be rented by many people who have been living in neighboring towns.
At the same time, Cheshire is working on a senior housing project and Ogden suggests the smaller communities work regionally instead of only focusing on their own senior citizens.
The town is also looking to crack down on the Skyline Country Club for late-night shenanigans. Police Chief Timothy Sorrell had come to the board in February with concerns of late-night issues. A fight had broken out during a 40th birthday party and when police arrived, those in attendance took off from the scene. And that wasn't the first fight there. At the time, Sorrell reviewed the police logs and saw a number of calls and even had a call in which someone was trying to steal a car.
Chairman John Goerlach followed that meeting up with a phone call to the owner to let him know that the number of issues was growing. On the night of April 27, however, gunshots were reported from the country club. Sorrell said when officers arrived, a car was speeding out of there, heading toward Pittsfield. The officer reported it to Pittsfield Police who stopped the vehicle and found .45 caliber rounds in it.
Around the same time, police arrested a drunk driver leaving the Skyline and fielded noise complaints, all around 1:30 on an early Saturday morning.
"It looks like it is being run as more than a nightclub than anything," Sorrell said.
The chief doesn't think the issue is so much on the owners, but on those who are renting the facility to hold events. He said the individual renting the Skyline now had originally held similar events at the troubled Chameleons in Pittsfield. Nonetheless, the Selectmen are now going to ask the Skyline's ownership to appear at the next meeting and there is a chance the Selectmen may reduce the liquor license hours or even suspend the license as the board has done with similar violations at businesses in the past.
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