SANDISFIELD — A South Carolina woman who has been searching for land to start a pot growing business in town has purchased a 76-acre plot and is preparing to build.
But some neighbors and residents are not pleased with Jennifer Pilbin's plans. Some say anything that smacks of industry off any of this hill town's bucolic country lanes is not welcome. Yet there are no cannabis zoning laws in place yet to stop it.
Pilbin has been here before. In July, residents chased her away from a 70-acre parcel off Town Hill Road on which she would locate her business and home.
Undaunted, Pilbin simply continued her search for land to build a fully enclosed, 20,000-square-foot grow and manufacturing facility, and her home, on which she will soon begin construction, she said by phone Monday. She'll do all this while she looks for an investor to help finance the business at 12 West Hubbard Road.
"I'm moving up there and working on my business idea while I work my regular job," Pilbin said, noting that the company where she works transferred her north.
But this isn't what Leslie Garwood signed up for. A psychologist who commutes to work near New York City and lives down the road from Pilbin's property, Garwood says she and her husband bought this house eight years ago with plans to retire full-time here.
"That's just not the environment we feel is conducive to pastoral country life," she said. "We're assuming things like chain-link fences on what is exclusively a residential road. Sandisfield wants people like us to move in full-time and something like this isn't going to help."
Sandisfield, with a population of around 900, is just one town that is coming to grips with a new legal pot industry that some say is attracted to a rural area's lower land costs and, in some cases, nonexistent zoning regulations for cannabis businesses.
But mix that with residents who enjoy the quiet country life, and want to protect property values they see as tied to this. They cite potential concerns such as noise, traffic, bright lights and odors from cannabis plants. Residents like Garwood say they see a future flurry of activity as a threat to peace and their investment. And they worry that, if the industry is eventually centered in cities for large-scale production, towns will be left with unused pot complexes.
But some residents say that with the right location, pot farms can generate much-needed tax revenue for suffering town coffers.
For Pilbin, local and state permits will take time and impose strict scrutiny on her plans. She said that the facility, which will take less than a year to build, will have air and humidity controls and an odor-control system, though she isn't yet sure what kind.
"I don't think you're going to smell anything outside the building," she said.
Four professional growers are so far her only employees.
Whatever happens, it won't be quick — town officials have said that all the permitting could take a while. Pilbin has not yet filed an application for a special permit.
Planning Board Chairman Roger Kohler said that the board will begin pursuing the creation of bylaws to control where the cannabis industry can operate in town, since right now it could be just about anywhere.
"The town is pretty much all one zone," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.