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An overflow crowd in the Selectmen's Meeting Room attends Thursday's hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Williamstown ZBA Continues Hearing on Pot Plantation

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday decided to continue to April its hearing on a request for a special permit to establish a marijuana production facility on Blair Road.
 
Massflora, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Euflora Cannabis Dispensaries, has requested permission for a 5-acre outdoor plantation and 7,000-square-foot building.
 
After more than two hours that included nuanced discussions of the town's bylaws by attorneys for and against the application, emotional appeals about the impact on area youth from smells to be generated by the proposed facility, expressions of concern about the impact on local property values and suggestions that the site will lead to an increase in crime, the board voted 5-0 to take no action until at least next month.
 
The ZBA also asked the applicant to address several specific issues when the board resumes its deliberations.
 
"Screening, elevations, smell and traffic," ZBA Chairman Andrew Hoar summed up the requests toward the close of the more than three-hour meeting.
 
The applicant claims that the proposed facility and its employees would lead to a less than 10 percent increase in traffic in the neighborhood. But several residents told the ZBA that estimate is low-balling the impact and called for a formal traffic study.
 
Attorney Donald Dubendorf, who represents Massflora, told the board that it will present additional data a the next meeting.
 
The screening issue centers on the 8-foot security fence mandated by the commonwealth's Cannabis Control Commission for the outdoor plantation. Dubendorf and other representatives of the applicant said they were open to a condition on the special permit requiring vegetative screening.
 
The ZBA is used to setting such requirements. Odor screening is uncharted territory for the panel.
 
Each of the nine residents who spoke against the applicant (none spoke in favor) referenced the potential for negative impacts from smells generated by the cannabis plants, which will be started inside the 7,000-foot facility and transplanted to the field in June to mature until they are harvested in October.
 
Odor pollution is documented in media reports from California, Oregon and Colorado that residents presented to the board. And one resident, who identified himself as a physician, suggested there are serious health risks from allergies, particularly to those who have asthma, from living in proximity to pot plantations.
 
Several residents returned repeatedly to the phrase "'Dead Skunk' Stench" used in the headline of a news report from Capinteria, Calif.
 
"I have a suggestion of how you can allay our concerns about smell," Blair Road resident Jamie Barstow said. "We'd like you to instruct the applicant to bring a mature plant of the size and strain that they propose to grow … and have them cut it up here, in this room."
 
A couple of the members of the board appeared to like the idea.
 
"I don't know what a budding marijuana plant smells like," ZBA member Keith Davis said. "I'm trying to evaluate something I have no background in. I like the idea someone had suggested about exposing the audience to what this smells like."
 
Hoar noted the only person in the room who knows what a cannabis farm smells like is the applicant's employee, who attended Thursday's hearing.
 
"But I don't know that this board at this point has the background or ability to judge that from a description," he said.
 
"And I don't know if even smelling one plant lets you know what 5 acres smells like," ZBA member Ryan Neathawk added.
 
Hoar asked point blank if the applicant could provide a plant, and Dubendorf responded that he would like some time to try to develop a plan to "give this board the experience of the odor."
 
"It's not only the single plant versus how many plants," Dubendorf continued. "It's also the ambient conditions. Inside a plant smells different from outside."

Tags: ZBA,   marijuana,   

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Williamstown Sergeant Placed on Administrative Leave

Staff ReportsiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A Williamstown police officer who filed a federal lawsuit over harassment claims last year is now being investigated for an employee complaint against him. 
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch confirmed on Saturday that Sgt. Scott McGowan was placed on paid administrative leave this week. 
 
"The leave is not disciplinary," Hoch said, but was done while the personnel matter is investigated. 
 
McGowan was removed from active duty on Monday. 
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