Brothers behind proposed Merrill Road marijuana operation work to quell fears

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PITTSFIELD — They were concerned when a methadone clinic came to their neighborhood, and those concerns haven't dissipated. Now, a marijuana shop is slated for the block.

Brianna Lamke said neighbors have butted heads with Spectrum Health Systems, the addiction clinic at 390 Merrill Road. She said they've found needles down the road, that there's a lot of loitering and larceny. Will these problems grow worse if a dispensary arrives?

Lamke said she's concerned for her children.

"That's my biggest concern," she said. "What the neighborhood has become."

The conversation came during a second community outreach meeting hosted by Berkshire brothers Nate, Ben and Nick Girard with regard to the retail marijuana operation they hope to bring to 400 Merrill Road. They held a second meeting in response to demand from the community.

The Girards, who grew up in Adams, said they plan to build a 2,100-square-foot building next door to a building they own at 392 Merrill Road, from which they already run their business, Royal Property Group. Per city zoning regulations, the brothers must first apply for a special permit from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Girards' company, Bloom Brothers, is the latest in a steady stream of those hoping to tap Pittsfield's burgeoning marijuana market. The city's first dispensary, Berkshire Roots, opened in April on Dalton Avenue. Temescal Wellness broke ground under its medical license in April as well, and three more recreational hopefuls have received an initial green light, and aim to open this summer.

One resident asked about signs and marketing, and the brothers said state law prohibits most forms of marketing and allows only for a modest sign with their company name. Residents also wanted information about employee training, which the brothers promised would be extensive.

Anita Fontaine said there will be too many marijuana facilities in her neighborhood, referring to Berkshire Roots on Dalton Avenue, one coming to East Street, and the shop proposed by the Girards.

One neighborhood landlord, who declined to give his full name, told the Girard brothers he's seen clients from the methadone clinic drive recklessly, endangering neighborhood residents. He said his fence was knocked down, and the clients loiter around the neighborhood.

"Spectrum didn't really work with us," he said. "Hopefully it will be different."

Jon Macht, who owns the building occupied by Spectrum Health, argued the addiction clinic is working to rehabilitate people and now this marijuana operation "pretty much flies in the face" of that work. Still, he said, "if they have a right to do it, there's nothing we can say about it."

"This is really what the city wants, huh?" Macht said, motioning to City Planner C.J. Hoss.

To which Hoss replied: "It's legal."

As for the issues with clientele, Macht said staff has been available and willing to work on neighborhood issues.

"There's only so much they can do with their clients," he said.

Nate Girard assured the group the company's security plan is vast — 30 pages long, he said, to be exact. And to landlords in the room who expressed concern about being able to rent out their properties in the future, he said he'll make sure they don't go empty.

In response to concerns from residents, the brothers promised not to allow customers to linger, loitering in the area of the store.

But "that's what they said about Spectrum," one resident said.

The Girard brothers told residents they hope to be a force for good in the neighborhood. They'll post signs reminding people that public consumption of marijuana is illegal, they said, and no product will be visible through the windows.

The brothers will host another community outreach meeting at 6 p.m. Friday at 34 Laurel St., for which they are separately pursuing a cultivation license with additional partners.

"We are happy to have as many of these conversations as people want to have with us," Nick Girard said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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