CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Planning Board again continued a public hearing on an outdoor marijuana cultivation site, asking the applicants to come back with plans for dealing with water and odor concerns.
Stafford Green Inc. is seeking a special permit to grow organic marijuana on about five acres of land at 80 Stafford Hill Road. Frank Maguire, president of the company, and his team were on hand to hear concerns and questions from the board and residents.
Mike Larabee, whose wife, Lynn, operates a day care on neighboring Sandmill Road, asked the board to consider that a lot of the children's activities happen outside their house and this would put the growing operation in violation of the minimum 500 feet the state has set as a buffer for educational facilities.
"The day care, it's the whole entire 12 acres of land I've got, not just the building," Larabee said. "If you go back to the [presentation] where it says 590 feet ... my property line is over 400 feet so that puts it within 190 feet. My daughter lives there and she homeschools her kids. She is certified as an educational facility. Again, she uses the whole yard."
Richard Evans, an attorney for Stafford Green, pointed out to the board that the law measures from structure to structure. Which in this case would be the greenhouse where the plant is processed to the Larabee home. This would give the operation the required 500 feet.
Larabee asked a rhetorical question of the board to sum up his stance: "Would I have built a half-million dollar house next to a marijuana farm? I don't think so."
Resident Kathy Derry was concerned the town didn't do its due diligence when adopting marijuana bylaws.
"From what I could tell they're practically the same as every small town in Massachusetts," she said. "Which meant that no real thought was put into them."
Board Chairwoman Donna DeFino disagreed.
"They were not boilerplate. We actually discussed the bylaws for a period of about five months with the help of [Berkshire Regional Planning Commission]," DeFino said. "We held multiple meetings and we went over those bylaws line by line."
When pressed further on the issue by Derry, DeFino said that Monday's meeting was not a time for discussion of the bylaws passed last June but to discuss Stafford Green and its application for a special permit specifically. She encouraged Derry to bring her concerns with the bylaws to the Board of Selectmen.
Resident Gary Trudeau addressed the difference between hemp and marijuana.
"Hemp is an agricultural product. Marijuana is not. It's a commercial product," he said. "It doesn't belong in an agricultural or residential zone where people live."
Because the state does designate differently between hemp and marijuana, a special permit isn't needed when growing hemp like it would be for growing marijuana. In layman's terms, hemp is just cannabis without the intoxicant tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Cannabis consultant Ezra Parzybok of GreenGlove spoke to the similarities between hemp and marijuana farms, specifically the odor issue that is a huge concern for the board and residents.
"I personally was shocked when I went to these farms, they are everywhere, they are hemp and they have the odor of marijuana," he said. "The hemp industry is already here ... to the tune of hundreds of acres across the state."
Stafford Green intends to use a mist system consisting of essential oils that wouldn't mask the odor but would trap the airborne particles and modify the chemical structure of the molecule itself and neutralize the odor.
DeFino wants to require the grower to install the odor mitigation system before starting his growing process.
"We don't want to chase [an odor problem] after it has already happened," she said.
Water usage and runoff was probably the biggest concern of the night. Several neighbors, as well as the planners, were skeptical the location could supply the required water necessary without possibly affecting surrounding residents' wells.
Terry Reynolds, the civil engineer for the project, said the maximum amount of water used per day, in the driest of conditions, would be 2,700 gallons.
DeFino floated the issue of an insurance bond or perhaps putting money into an escrow account should the drilling of new wells negatively affect the existing residential wells.
"I'm worried about the water, I have huge concerns about the water," she said. "The reason it's a concern versus someone putting in a house next door? You're not a house. You're going to have huge water usage. We have to look at that as something that is potentially harmful to the neighbors."
When addressing runoff and groundwater contamination concerns, consultant Parzybok referenced strict industry standards as a natural safeguard.
"If you have anything in your plant whatsoever that is deemed toxic, at any level, you have no business, you can't sell it," he said. "You have to be incredibly clean. The soil that has to be used is so incredibly clean. My fear going forward is, are pesticides from a cornfield a mile away going to travel and contaminate cannabis to the point where it hits [unacceptable] levels?"
DeFino and the board sent the team from Stafford Green away with some homework — namely a water usage study to determine, as best they can, the capability of the groundwater being able to handle the water demand without affecting surrounding wells, a more specific explanation of runoff concerns, and a site specific odor control plan.
The board has some work of its own to do to investigate the day-care issue further. The next Planning Board meeting will be Oct. 28.
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