CHESHIRE — The Cheshire Planning Board wants assurances that a proposed outdoor marijuana-cultivation farm won't raise a stink with neighbors or cause water shortages.
The board has asked Stafford Green Inc. to develop an odor-mitigation plan to deal with the smell of 3,000 flowering cannabis plants in the Stafford Hill neighborhood. The developer hadn't planned to install odor-control measures unless they became necessary.
"If our research shows odor is an issue, we'll require odor mitigation ... before there is an issue," said board Chairwoman Donna DeFino.
The five-member panel also wants data on the potential impact of the project's on-site underground water supply on wells of nearby homes.
Stafford Green officials anticipate drawing, if needed, a maximum of 2,700 gallons per day, but expect to rely mainly on rainfall to water the plants. Nevertheless, the 2,700 figure raised a red flag with town planners.
"We have someone's well who gets two and a half gallons [per minute] who could be down to 1 gallon, then we have a problem," said board member Nick Graham.
The residents' concerns of odor and well-water use dominated the planners' ongoing review of the project for the second consecutive meeting Monday. Town review of the project began Aug. 26 and is scheduled to resume at the Planning Board's monthly meeting Oct. 28.
While 25 residents — that's less than half of the 60 townspeople who packed the Cheshire Senior/Community Center last month — attended Monday night's meeting, nearly all remained opposed to Stafford Green creating a 5-acre pot-growing facility on a 34-acre parcel between Stafford Hill and Sand roads.
The developers are seeking a special permit from the Planning Board to grow the recreational marijuana in above-ground organic soil beds in a 40,000-square-foot area that makes up less than 1 acre. The growing and cultivation typically would occur from June through October, according to Stafford Green President Frank Maguire Jr. Any organic waste from growing the cannabis would be composted.
On Monday, project consultant Ezra Parzybok tried to convince neighbors that various odor-mitigation methods can keep the flowering plant smell on-site.
Parzybok said the smell might vary and is similar to hemp, which can be grown without a special permit. He cited one woman who lives next door to a hemp farm in Hadley.
"She's had no complaints, [and] her house is literally 15 feet from the plants," he said, showing a picture of the house next to the pot plants during his slide presentation.
Mike Larabee appreciated Parzybok's information but found it one-sided.
"I'm an abutter to this mess," he said. "All I see is statistics for it. I don't see any statistics against it," he said.
One of the more vocal project opponents, Gary Trudeau, accused the Planning Board of ignoring local zoning bylaws dealing with potential noise and odors from properties in town.
"Why has this gotten this far? Clearly, it's in violation of several bylaws," he said. "This should have been stopped."
Defino replied: "We don't stop something in anticipation it's in violation of our bylaws."
One resident praised the developers for their research and responsiveness to the townspeople's concerns.
As for the rest of the project, Stafford Green would erect a 42-by-60-foot no-glass greenhouse used for drying, preparing and storing the harvest, and office space. Portable toilets would be used for five to eight employees. There would be no storage of cultivated marijuana during the offseason.
A water tank would store the well water used, if necessary, to irrigate the marijuana plants.
The entire project at 80 Stafford Hill Road, which would be monitored by 12 security cameras, would be set back nearly 800 feet from the road and surrounded by a 130,000-square-foot, chain-link fence topped with sharp wire.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.