Cannabis Facility Proposed for Berkshire Mall

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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A cannabis cultivator is proposing to set up shop in the former Sears and Macy's stores at the vacant Berkshire Mall.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The shuttered Berkshire Mall may have a revival of business activity -- in cannabis.  

The Selectmen on Tuesday authorized negotiations for a Host Community Agreement with JMJ Holdings Corp. for a project that includes making former anchor stores into manufacturing and cultivation facilities.

"What we seek to do is basically revive that property to a state of business. We are focused on the supply chain side. I'm aware that Lanesborough does not have any retail cannabis establishments so that's certainly not on the table for us," applicant Blake Mensing said.

"The rough outline of the proposal would be to benefit from the mall as a currently existing condo structure and separately deed some of the larger units and in particular, the Sears and the Macy's. We will create some entities and get those entities licensed as cultivators and manufacturers."

He later clarified that they are not initially asking for cultivation permissions.

The corporation plans to close on the property on Friday and Mensing reported that it takes about 18 to 24 months to get to opening day. Though he reported that the board's OK is not a guarantee that it will come to fruition, as the applicant still has to go through the rest of the municipal and state processes.

This includes a community outreach meeting, which is planned for August or September, and public hearings for permitting.

"We're going to have far fewer vehicle trips than if it were operating as a mall," Mensing said about the proposed operation. "At full build-out, I'd say with all the proposed tenants the goal of getting tenants is around 100 people working."

He also pointed out that operations will be focused on the opposite end of the facility to not "step on the toes" of Target.

JMJ Holdings will retain about 350,000 square feet to run themselves.

"I always tell folks, if you wonder what a stoner looks like, this is what a stoner looks like," Mensing said about himself.

"I've smoked weed for 25 years every day, I have three graduate degrees, I've started eight businesses in the last four years, I have two lovely children, I just consume cannabis once my kids are asleep to make my brain stop going a mile a minute."

The Selectmen first grappled with continuing the HCA vote, asking questions about odor and security, but then recognized that there will be more opportunities for discussion on the project in the future. The vote was an OK to begin negotiations with KP Law as town counsel.

Selectman Michael Murphy spoke in support of the cannabis industry as a medical cardholder and a former assistant manager at a local dispensary. He did have some concerns with the location in terms of when the "bottom drops out" of the business and town panels having a personal interest in the sale of the mall.

"I could think of better purposes for the property but this gentleman has stepped up to try and do the best he can to property," Chairman John Goerlach said.

"We don't have anything else that I've heard of in years."

The mall has been closed for about three years with Target operating as its own entity in the space that it owns. Last summer, a management consulting firm spoke about trying to revitalize the mall as a turnkey property.

One resident urged the board to hold off on a vote, claiming that the presentation was last minute and that she felt like she was being sold a car.

In other news, the town will hold a special town meeting to discuss a $50,000 American Rescue Plan Act request for a boiler replacement at Lanesborough Elementary School.

On Tuesday, the Selectmen voted to host a town meeting on the request "as soon as possible" to avoid rising costs. It is planned for Aug. 18 at 6 pm.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Jason McCandless told the School Committee that one of the two boilers original to the 20-year-old school had a system failure and the request for funds went before the ARPA Committee last week.

The committee suggested that the school consider looking for another funding source from the town.  Town Administrator Joshua Lang suggested free cash as another potential funding option.

At this meeting, Lang reported that the town can't use free cash until it is certified in the fall so it would have to be taken out of the general stabilization fund and then returned to free cash.

If ARPA funds were used for the project, Lanesborough would have about $70,000 of unallocated funds.

"Unfortunately, it's something that has to be done for the kids at the school and it's also our emergency evacuation center to house people if something happens, the town loses," Selectman Timothy Sorrell said.

"I mean, I think the price is only going to go up the longer we drag our feet."

Goerlach and Murphy expressed concern that they are talking about replacing one boiler, not two, and that this discussion is happening after the town meeting.

The board also voted to offer the town's administrative assistant job to Pittsfield native Beth Carroll.

There was some controversy over former Administrative Assistant Makayla Zonfrilli, who is the fiancée of Lang.

An Open Meeting Law complaint was filed early this year that alleged the board committed several violations at a Dec. 21 meeting, including entering an executive session without it being on the meeting agenda, not informing the public of the executive session, and interviewing a candidate for the open town secretary position without informing the public.

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DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
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