LENOX — Even though the town of Lee has approved all permits for the Forest Wilde LLC marijuana complex at the former Cork ’N Hearth restaurant, the business cannot open unless it gains permits from the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals.
At least, that’s the view from the Lenox Select Board, responding to nearby resident Ruth Bronston’s query during Wednesday night’s meeting. Bronston, of Bramble Lane, cited neighborhood concerns about traffic safety. Access to Bramble Lane is adjacent to the entrance to the Lenox town beach and to the project site at 635 Laurel St. (Route 20).
“A pot shop at that location creates an abundance of traffic and a public safety hazard as it relates to accidents,” Bronston said, referring to comments by Lee Police Chief Craig DeSantis at a May 4 Lee Select Board meeting.
At that meeting, the Lee Select Board voted 3-0 to approve a special permit for Forest Wilde to convert the Cork ‘N Hearth, a fine-dining restaurant recently closed by Chris and Jasmine Ryan after 24 years of ownership, into a facility to manufacture and sell marijuana products.
“I think there’s a seriously higher vehicle count coming in and out of the site than the applicant alludes to,” DeSantis told the Select Board before the vote.
The property is on the Lee-Lenox town line, and a sliver of it, including part of the entrance to the upper parking area and up to nine spaces there, is on the Lenox side.
So far, despite outreach to the Forest Wilde applicants, there has been no response, said Lenox Select Board Chairwoman Marybeth Mitts, and no applications have been received by the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals from the project’s developers.
In response to an Eagle query, a statement by Forest Wilde, issued by Greg D’Agostino, a partner in the Tenax Strategies consulting firm for the project, points out that the marijuana business applicants were represented at a Lenox Select Board meeting Feb. 10, where Tenax Partner Peter D’Agostino responded to questions from neighbors, as well as at Lenox Planning Board meetings in March, though there was no discussion by that board.
During the public process in Lee, Forest Wilde’s statement added, “We provided robust documentation that included a traffic study, a security plan, floor plans and renderings. We had many conversations with our neighbors and local businesses about the project and had open dialogue about community concerns and how we would address them ... Forest Wilde looks forward to continuing to communicate with the Town of Lenox.”
Greg D’Agostino said he had no immediate response on whether Forest Wilde would apply for a special permit from the Lenox ZBA.
“The Lenox Land Use staff and Town Counsel [Joel Bard] have notified the Lee Select Board as well as the applicants that the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals has jurisdiction over this issue,” Mitts declared. “This is potentially in violation of our zoning.”
A ZBA special permit from Lenox, in addition to the Lee permits, would be required for the marijuana business to open, she said.
“Should an application come before our ZBA, that activity is forbidden in that particular area because of our zoning bylaws,” Mitts said. “From everything the bylaws say, that’s not an allowable use for that parcel. We’ve done everything we can, and now it’s time for the applicant to come before us.”
The 4,550 square-foot building with 46 parking spaces overlooks the Lenox Town Beach and is adjacent to the LakeHouse Inn.
“We feel that Forest Wilde is blatantly disregarding and has violated Lenox’s bylaws,” Bronston, the nearby resident, told the Lenox Select Board. She asked how the town would “assert its jurisdiction” on the issue.
Lacking an approved permit from Lenox, if Forest Wilde tried to open its doors, the company would be in violation of the town’s zoning bylaws, Mitts responded. At that point, the town’s building inspector would issue a cease-and-desist order, she said, since the bylaw applies to the parking spaces.
There had been comments from some Lee residents and Berkshire business owners urging that town’s Select Board to give the company an opportunity to compete in the burgeoning marijuana marketplace.
In response, the Lee board agreed to review the traffic issue, as well as odor control from the building, after three months, six months and one year of operation.
In March, the Lee Planning Board approved the site plan and a 380-square-foot addition to the front for secured storage of cannabis products.
Forest Wilde’s owners, Jeanne Carmichael, of Lee, and Cassandra Purdy, of Roxbury, Conn., still need a license from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
As for the timeline, “the clock is not ticking,” said Lenox Selectman Neal Maxymillian, referring to Bronston’s concern about deadlines. “I would think we’re not closer than 18 months from these folks being at any point ready to open their doors. There has not been a proper process by the applicant in terms of Lenox.”
The proposed main entrance to the store would be at the upper level from the parking area, and the developer has agreed to have traffic-control measures in place for peak times.
Forest Wilde previously has stated that it would need four to six months to convert slightly less than half of the former restaurant into retail space. The rest of the site primarily would be for manufacturing cannabis products, as well as office space.