CHESHIRE, Mass. — The principal owner and representatives of Stafford Green Inc. did little to alleviate concerns about their proposed operation during a third round of a public hearing on Monday.
And the Planning Board again extended the hearing for the proposed outdoor marijuana cultivation operation as both planners and residents continued to air concerns.
Residents at the September meeting had expressed worries about the negative effects of water usage, odor mitigation, security, and property valuations, should the proposed one-acre site on Stafford Hill Road be approved. Their opinion has not changed. Almost everybody in the audience, most of whom were abutters and neighbors of the proposed site, were against it.
Even after a short presentation from representatives of Stafford Green addressing their concerns, they remained steadfast and united.
Dan Hajdas of Fales Road covered a host of issues he sees as being insufficiently addressed by Stafford Green, with a main one being security.
"Stafford Green proposed that they meet state requirements. However ... they left out specifically, these are minimum requirements. The regulation does not say these are the only requirements," he said. "Since this is an outdoor facility they should install fence sensors to detect anyone trying to climb, cut, or go under the fence. Additionally there should be 24-hour manned security on the site. Preferably two people in case one person is unable to come in for a shift."
Hajdas has issues with odor control as well. Although there have been no official complaints he said he smells the hemp farm currently operating on Fales Road and goes out of his way to avoid it. He doesn't expect any different from the proposed marijuana farm.
"I talked about odor at the first meeting. I stopped driving by that property. While it wasn't an 'official' complaint because I didn't know where to file it. Maybe that's something the town needs to make clearer," he said. "Since the last meeting, there have been two occasions I've smelled the hemp at my house. I took a walk to my neighbor's property. I was probably a half mile away and I could still smell it so I stopped walking."
The line between marijuana and hemp seems to be a point of contention between Stafford Green and residents. Biologically it is easily defined. Any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3 percent THC (the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol) is considered hemp. As of 2018, hemp agriculture is legal in all 50 states. There is no special permit required in the town of Cheshire as it would fall under the Right To Farm community statute. However, since there is such a small sample size of growing marijuana outdoors in Massachusetts, most of the examples cited by Stafford Green when questioned by residents deal with hemp when it comes to water usage, odor mitigation, etc. Residents were looking for more solid examples from marijuana growing sites.
Sandmill Road resident Gerry Dery addressed Stafford Green President Frank Maguire directly.
"Cheshire is a Right To Farm town but cannabis is not farming, it's a business. Mr. Maguire, I'm glad to hear about your dreams (to start a cultivation business and build an accompanying house). We all love living in Cheshire and we have dreams as well," he said. "Cannabis in that area is going to take away a lot of the things that we love. We'd love to have you as a neighbor. But not growing cannabis. Grow corn."
Dery's wife, Kathie, cited a town bylaw about the proposed usage needing to be seen as "not to be detrimental to adjacent uses or to the established or future character of a neighborhood."
Board member Ron DeAngelis sees this as an important interpretation and felt the town might have been remiss in keeping current with its zoning.
"If you look back over the years of Cheshire it was A/R [Agricultural/Residential] based. This was all farms. Over the last 20 years, Stafford Hill and that whole area has become residential. [Not changing the zoning classification] I think that's part of our responsibility. Not paying attention to what was happening in our community. We needed to make sure that as these residential areas grew ... that we were protecting the investment people were making," he said. "To me, it's reset the characteristics of the neighborhood. It's changed from being farmland to a residential area. Now we're being asked, because there is a piece of property there, to look at it with a different view. I would say, 'It's a neighborhood now with families, kids.' How do we see this not changing that?"
Chairwoman Donna DeFino agreed but reminded everyone the board has to rule under current conditions.
"Unfortunately it doesn't change our zoning. It is still, by definition, agricultural," she said.
There are myriad issues still to be addressed and many more will surely arise before any special permit is granted. The town is, after all, swimming in uncharted waters. But after all the science behind water usage is presented, and all the subjective cases of who smells what are heard, and the seemingly endless back and forth over hemp versus marijuana, the granting of the special permit might hinge on how the word "structure" is defined.
Kayli Manning homeschools her children at 91 Sandmill Road. She also runs a licensed day-care facility there. Her house, or structure, according to measurements provided by Stafford Green, sits well outside the 500-foot minimum required by the town of Cheshire for a marijuana growing operation. Manning said measuring structure to structure, which in this case would be from her house to the indoor processing facility for Stafford Green, this would be true.
However, she cited an important clarification supplied by the Cannabis Control Commission: "A facility, however, is not limited to a building. For example, a playground outside a school would be considered a facility where children congregate."
This would put her "structure" within 500 feet of the proposed facility, thus making it unlawful
"This has not been addressed by anybody," she continued. "If you measure from the playground, my yard, where I homeschool my children, where we have a licensed day care, it would not be 500 feet. Nobody has come to me or to my door to ask to measure that. That's a problem."
DeFino sees more due diligence for the board on this topic.
"We do have more questions that have to be answered. I was of the impression that we were well within our boundaries as far as the day care. Now there seems to be some question about that," she said. "Is it 500 feet from the building? Is it 500 feet from the play area? The fenceline? I'm not confident in the information we have that we can say definitively 'yes, we're OK with this area.' I'm just not comfortable with that."
The board asked Stafford Green to come back in November to provide it with more information. Specifically the members want to know about Stafford Green's willingness to install odor control measures along with proof of their effectiveness, providing protection in the form of a bond or escrow account should drilling irrigation wells on the site negatively affect neighbors' water supply and, in conjunction with the board's research, provide clarification on the proximity to the day care.
If the latter issue can't be resolved to the board's satisfaction the first two won't matter.
The next hearing will be held on Monday, Nov. 25, at 6 p.m. at the Cheshire Community Center.
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Cheshire Still Seeking Right Fiscal Equation For Elementary School
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
The Selectmen have hoped to use the former school as a revenue generator.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — When the Cheshire Elementary School was closed two years ago, the only silver lining to be found was the potential revenue source it might provide to the town through leasing the space privately.
The Board of Selectmen are still working hard to figure out a formula that works.
Tuesday night's meeting was a good example as the board weighed the cost of temporary heating upgrades for the cafeteria versus rent the town receives from tenants. The upgrades would essentially serve one tenant that holds fitness classes in the west wing of the building. The school currently has three lessees: Youth Center Inc., the school district administration, and Berkshire Body.
"Electric heaters look to be the safest and most cost effective means to provide heating for the space," said Town Administrator Edmund St. John III. "We estimate the cost of the installation will be somewhere around $3,500."
When the Cheshire Elementary School was closed two years ago, the only silver lining to be found was the potential revenue source it might provide to the town through leasing the space privately.
The Board of Selectmen are still working hard to figure out a formula that works. click for more
The board engaged in an hour of discussion when resident Gary Trudeau raised the possibility that the members might have inadvertently violated the state law again when interviewing candidates for the operator position.
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