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 Selectmen Eye Salary Increases in FY21 Budget
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The fiscal 2021 budget preparation dominated at Tuesday night's Selectmen's meeting.
Aside from reviewing the Board of Health and Council on Aging operating budgets, the board discussed at length what some members see as stagnant salaries for many town positions.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV recently undertook a salary study with input from the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Human Resources department. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi feels Cheshire has fallen behind other similar communities in compensating it's employees.
"Based on feedback that we received at the town meeting last year, a concerted effort has been made by the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee towards improving the overall salary structure of our town. We have been undercompensating our employees, we do recognize that, and it's something we are looking to address," she said to the virtual attendees.