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One view of the site plan for the planned Sparkboro Wellness marijuana store at 1017 Simonds Road. The business plans 19 parking spaces on the site.
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The entrance to the Steinerfilm property with the yellow former garage at 1017 Simonds Road in the distance to the left.

Williamstown Zoning Board Issues Third Special Permit for a Pot Shop

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The former garage at 1017 Simonds Road. Sparkboro Wellness plans to preserve the building envelope but eliminate the second floor, creating vaulted ceilings.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday issued the town's third special permit to operate a marijuana retail shop.
 
Sparkboro Wellness, which lists a Pittsfield business address and Steve Pennisi as president, obtained the necessary town permitting to operate a store in a former garage at 1017 Simonds Road (Route 7).
 
The town already has one cannabis shop in operation, Silver Therapeutics on Main Street (Route 2). A second applicant, operating under the business name Elev8, holds a special permit to open a second Main Street shop but still needs to come back to the ZBA for a site plan review.
 
Sparkboro still has to complete the approval process with the Cannabis Control Commission in Boston, but the local permitting was completed in a two-hour hearing and a unanimous vote by the board on Thursday night.
 
Sparkboro was represented in Thursday's hearing by Williamstown attorney Don Dubendorf and engineer Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow and Associates.
 
The testimony and the board's questions focused less on the nature of the business and more on the potential impact of developing the site and ensuring that development met town codes where possible and provided mitigation when not.
 
In other words, it was discussed as any other retail business might be.
 
One abutter did bring concerns before the board, but she said her comments stemmed from the potential impact of a retail operation next door to her home she rents as a residence.
 
"I'm not against cannabis," said Maura Taylor, who owns the home at 1025 Simonds Road. "But the activity … I could end up losing potential real estate income from this business being there. Prior to my purchasing this home, there was a family that lived [at 1017 Simonds Road]."
 
ZBA member Rob Matthews pointed out that while there may be impacts from revitalizing the commercial property next to Taylor's, both are in the town's Planned Business zoning district.
 
"That might be true, but [a business] is something allowed by right in that zone," Matthews said. "That could become a garage tomorrow."
 
Town Planner Andrew Groff told the ZBA that the area in question has been zoned planned business for decades.
 
The board was able to address some of Taylor's concerns by pointing to a site plan by the applicant submitted that shows Sparkboro's lighting plan abides by the town code by not allowing measurable light crossing the northern boundary of the 1017 Simonds Road property.
 
And although the applicant already had expressed a preference to use warmer, 3,000 Kelvin lighting that produces less glare, the ZBA specified the 3,000 Kelvin fixtures as a condition of Sparkboro's permit.
 
The board also was able to address Taylor's concern that vehicles entering the north entrance to Sparkboro's property might cut through an easement that 1017 Simonds Road shares with its neighboring parcel. The board included in its order that Sparkboro will use curbing or some other modification to ensure that does not happen.
 
The only other concern raised to the ZBA was a written communication from the counsel of Steinerfilm, Inc., which expressed a worry that cars pulling in and out of the Sparkboro lot would negatively impact employees entering and leaving the manufacturing facility by its access road, located at the south end of 1017 Simonds Road.
 
Nobody from Steinerfilm attended Thursday's virtual hearing to address the ZBA on the matter.
 
Dubendorf said there was ample evidence to show that Sparkboro would not exacerbate traffic problems on a stretch of a road where southbound traffic is transitioning from 45 mph to 35 mph.
 
He pointed to a recent Simonds Road traffic study taken south of the intersection with Bridges Road, the "Cozy Corner" intersection south of the 1017 Simonds Road, that showed 5,500 vehicle trips per day.
 
Dubendorf noted that since so many of the vehicles that travel that stretch of Simonds Road/Route 7 actually turn on and off the U.S. highway at Bridges, it is reasonable to infer that the number of existing vehicle trips past 1017 Simonds Road is even higher.
 
The applicant, meanwhile, estimates 224 car trips per day to the planned Starkboro location.
 
"Even if you double that number, you're below the 10 percent trigger under our bylaw of traffic addition," Dubendorf said.
 
In other business on Thursday night, the ZBA approved an enclosed mud room and carriage house-like storage building for a residence on Latham Street, which is in the Village Business District.
 
The homeowner was before the board because the single-family home represented a pre-existing non-conforming use in the zone.
 
"We normally deal with extensions of nonconforming uses by businesses in residential districts," Groff told the board. "This is the opposite."

Tags: ZBA,   marijuana,   

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Williams College President President Receives Honorary Degree from Brown University

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College President Maud S. Mandel, received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Brown University during the university's commencement on Sunday, May 2.
 
Mandel taught at Brown as a visiting assistant professor, and then as professor of history and Judaic studies while also serving as dean of the college before joining Williams as president in July 2018. 
 
At Brown's commencement ceremony she addressed the same students she had welcomed in-person four years earlier. In her remarks, she noted major events that have transpired since then, including a global pandemic, political upheaval, fights to hold onto basic rights in voter access, and major movements against racism and for equity and justice.
 
"One of the things you've learned is that life can be unpredictable," Mandel told the university's Class of 2021 graduates. "That the path for those who thrive requires resilience. That you need to be open to changing course, learning while you're doing, assessing the evidence and regrouping…"
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