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company plans to transform the mall into a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility.

Lanesborough Hears Progress on Berkshire Mall Cannabis Venture

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town officials accept that the Berkshire Mall will likely never be a mall again and support the facility's reuse for cannabis production.

On Monday, the Select Board heard an update from JMJ Holdings, whom they signed a Community Host Agreement with earlier this year.

"I've been here for 34 years. I've seen the mall come and I've seen it go and I know it's not going to come back," Selectman Timothy Sorrell said.

"I guess my question to you is do you feel you're getting the best assistance from the town to help you move this along? Or what can we do better? Because if you make money, we make money.  Nothing going on isn't helping any of us."

The company plans to transform the mall into a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility.  

"We should have the fire suppression system pretty much done and signed off by the fire chief this week. The next order of business for us is to go inside and basically work on making sure the pipes don't freeze for winter, which entails all of the gas meters having to come back because they needed to be changed.  The gas company took a lot of them away so we've got a pressure test the lines and get all of that working so that we don't run into further problems with the pipe during the colder weather," Joseph Jones of JMJ reported.

"After that, what I'm sort of focused on is the wastewater treatment plant and with that, that's a little bit of a complicated situation here because the mall in and of itself, from our point of view, all studies, all pertinent information, it's never going to be a mall again."

He explained that the company has talked with many people and businesses and, based on the size of the town and the economy, it is too difficult to get retail back into the space.

"It doesn't mean that it's still not a great location," Jones said. "Actually, the vision that we've had for the mall altogether basically, has been the right one."

The building has largely been out of use since 2019 with the exception of Regal Cinema, which closed in 2022, and Target, which is the only remaining store left.

Jones also clarified the intent of JMJ's operation.  He explained that the cannabis cultivation business is competitive and smaller cultivators cannot compete with large, multi-state operators who want to grow and own dispensaries.

This has reportedly had an effect on the business.

"That has really never been our focus," he said.

"I think a better way for myself to describe it would be to say that what we're looking to do is a lot more manufacturing and that when I say manufacturing, I'm talking about CBD, CBD products, beverages, infusibles, edibles all of these types of things. That that's really where the profit margin is good and it's where it's where the jobs are as well."

He explained that there is an endless amount of CBD products and they would like to transfer them all into a manufacturing facility that can privately package and distribute them.  This is estimated to create 150 to 200 jobs.

"And that I think is really where Lanesborough needs to be in terms of bringing business in because these multi-state operators, when they when they come into town, they're looking for local people, they're investing the money that these companies spend, they're spending right here in Lanesborough by way of hiring people, creating jobs," Jones said.

"So for us what that simply means is that if we're able to control the multi-state operators that want to come into the mall from other states because they want a fingerprint in the New England area to distribute the products that the mall becomes a great location."

He clarified that the jobs will not be minimum wage.

"We're not we're not looking to be a big cannabis grower not trying to fill the whole mall up with cultivation," he said. "We would prefer to be a fulfillment and a manufacturing center for anybody that's trying to launch a product needs it and needs distribution."

With respect to the wastewater treatment plan, he said that it is never going to operate correctly because there won't be enough traffic in the mall to produce that kind of sewage flow.

"And it's extremely expensive to repair and quite frankly, we don't really need it for where we're going," Jones reported. "We might be able to use it in some way but it's so expensive to maintain and fix, it's really not worth it."

The last owners had spoken about running a line from the Pittsfield sewage plant and JMJ would possibly like to revisit that idea.

"I don't have any problems with Lanesborough in the sense that you have allowed us to have HCA and you've been good to us as far as I can say with trying to work with us and giving us time," Jones said.

"So my point is that if we can make this wastewater treatment plant usable to the community of the surrounding houses if there's anybody that wants to tie into it and we can make it work to the benefit of the community, we'd be happy to explore that and look into it. Otherwise, I think for us, it's cheaper for us just to demolish it."

The town's building inspector Rick Reid has not seen anything come through his department in regard to the mall's fire protection system.  He also pointed out that a change of use will have to be reviewed by an engineering firm, which will also determine what type of sanitary facilities are needed.

Jones said he is not in the position to disclose exactly which types of businesses will go into the mall and that he understands that they will need to work with the town on permitting.

Sorrell said he wishes JMJ the best of luck, especially when they are talking about giving the town a couple hundred thousand dollars per year, but pointed to a neighbor's testimony that the company is having issues with funding.

Jones explained that the neighbor said that the investors pulled out.

"I don't have investors. I have partners, and so I've got to be careful here because there's an NDA and different things in that affect you but let me say this: What they have were licenses and they wanted an exorbitant amount of money for those licenses. They were not coming into the mall. They just wanted to sell the licenses and run," he said.

"There was a situation where I maybe said 'Maybe okay, we'll consider it, we'll option it,' and that's what happened so we gave them some money to basically say, 'Well, maybe we'll buy it and maybe we won't, and if we do buy it, it's a credit and if we don't buy it then basically you just keep the money and we walk away,' so the value of those licenses plummeted hundreds of thousands of dollars. It wasn't worth it. Walked away."

Though the company feels supported by town officials, they feel that there are people with "personal agendas" who are slowing the process of the mall's redevelopment.

"The only thing that is stopping our progress, as I said, are personal agendas of people who I consider don't have the best interests of the town here but anything that we say and we give our word on we're going to try to do but it's a business and people are not just going to throw money into a situation where there's certain types of uncertainty. It's not that we lost partners and people pulled out. Every contractor we've dealt with, everybody we've dealt with we pay," Jones said.

"And I know what happened with the last gentleman that was here. He made a lot of promises and a plan and he basically left the town high and dry and didn't do what he said he was going to do so I'm following that act and I have all intentions of doing a lot better but I'm going one step better and basically saying if Lanesborough is willing to work with us, and it seems as you have because you haven't really presented me any issues or problems.  I don't think that you're doing or saying anything that's unreasonable. If anything, maybe you have to educate me on some of the things that may or may need to be done in order to comply with rules, regulations, or whatever it is. I don't take any offense to that so if we get things positioned in the right way, we'll be able to do fine with you."

Sorrell said that he wants to keep the lines of communication open and if JMJ feels that they are being railroaded they want to hear from them.

He also added that they have no use for the land on the back side of the mall where the tank is and could give the town a deal on a parcel of land to build its public safety facility.

In other news, Michael Murphy was voted as chairman of the board until John Goerlach returns from a short-term leave.

"Based on the current composition of the board since we're shy of a third member for reasons not to be discussed right now, I'd like to make a motion since we just had an election and we usually do reorganize after the election, that I make a nomination and until we can have a full board here that tentatively I would like to nominate Mike Murphy as chairman of the board and then when Mr. Goerlach comes back then we can revisit this and have another vote if things change," Sorrell said.

Town Administrator Gina Dario told iBerkshires that Goerlach is away for a short-term period but has not resigned.  The origin of the leave is not known.


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Lanesborough Elm Tree Named Largest in State

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — King Elmer is living up to his name, now deemed the largest American Elm in the state.

Jim Neureuther, chair of the Tree and Forrest Committee, happily reported this to the Select Board on Monday.  The Department of Conservation and Recreation released an updated Champion Trees list on May 4 with the town's over 100-foot tall elm at the top.

"It's official, King Elmer is the largest American Elm tree in Massachusetts," Neureuther said.

Located at the corner of Route 7 and Summer St., the king is believed to be over 250 years old and is 107 feet tall with an average canopy spread of 95.5 feet.  It scored 331.88 points with the state based on a 201-inch circumference, which is a 64-inch diameter (5'4 through the middle of the tree.)

King Elmer dethroned the former champion elm in Old Deerfield Village that has been cut down.  In 2019, Neureuther traveled to Franklin County to see it only to find a stump, prompting him to submit the Lanesborough tree's official measurements.

He thought, "Wait a minute, we're moving up the ranks now."

The second-place elm scored 320 points, giving King Elmer a lead in the race barring the loss of a limb.

Earlier this year, the town was notified by the Arbor Day Foundation that it had been recognized as Tree City USA for 2023, a long-held designation.  

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