Wiseacre Farm Polikoff

Residents of Polikoff Road in Ashley Falls fought Wiseacre Farm's proposal for outdoor cannabis cultivation there. The Sheffield Planning Board on Thursday denied the special permit, in a 5-0 vote.

{child_flags:top_story}Fierce opposition kills Sheffield pot farm project

{child_byline}By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle{/child_byline}

SHEFFIELD — The town Planning Board on Thursday denied a special permit for a commercial cannabis farm that abutters fought for months on the grounds that it would destroy the atmosphere of their neighborhood and make it unsafe.

In a 5-0 vote after deliberations by phone conference that went late into the night, the board rejected Wiseacre Farm’s plan, saying the location off Polikoff Road in Ashley Falls isn’t right for a neighborhood that is packed with homes.

After two public hearings, board members appeared determined to make a decision, given the tidal wave of opposition that included an online petition. The vote was followed by applause.

Abutters and other nearby residents again pointed to a slew of potential problems, including unknowns about the number of employees, an increase in traffic on a street packed with families, and odors from the plants — despite reassurances from Wiseacre co-owner Jon Piasecki.

Piasecki and supporters of the plan — some of them are cannabis farmers — said the resistance likely is because of the stigma attached to marijuana after decades of prohibition.

Piasecki, who operates a 5,000-square-foot grow in West Stockbridge, wanted to grow 95,000 square feet of the crops at 286 Polikoff Road for wholesale distribution. The 21-acre property lies in the general business and rural districts.

The proposal was one of several on the table in Sheffield — they include another on Polikoff Road — as South County towns grapple with a surge of interest from cannabis entrepreneurs.

The Ashley Falls farm would have been one of the largest outdoor cannabis-cultivation ventures in Massachusetts, according to Piasecki, co-owner with Anthony Bowen. It would have grossed $5 million to $9 million, Piasecki noted, and about $150,000 in revenue to the town.

While the company said odors would be controlled by technology and a stand of trees between the farm and homes, the issue cropped up as a major concern.

“We’re tired to having to explain to our children what this smell is,” said Samuel Stolzar, an Ashley Falls resident.

The farm’s supporters suggested that opposition to the industry isn’t entirely rooted in facts, and that cannabis is just another agricultural crop.

“Everyone is entitled to their emotions,” said Suehiko Ono, co-founder and CEO of EOS Farm in Pittsfield, who suggested that odor is an excuse. “When you don’t have real reasons, you have to come up with reasons to support your position.”

And Piasecki said that “no one gets high from the smell.”

Stolzar and others had pointed out that cannabis has mind-altering properties. All along, abutters have said the family-centered neighborhood isn’t the right place to grow it on a large scale.

Abutters who had campaigned against the project were thrilled with the board’s decision.

“It’s so exciting,” Tracy Stoddard said Friday.

On Thursday the board also approved, 5-0, Berkshire Welco’s special permit for cannabis manufacturing and cultivation at the former Custom Extrusion plant at 34 Home Road.

The public hearing for Millerton, N.Y.-based ZGC LLC for cultivation on Polikoff Road will be held Wednesday.

Sheffield has five existing cannabis businesses, including cultivation and retail, and four prospective companies in various stages of permitting, according to town officials. Two others have indicated interest but have not presented plans.



Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. On Twitter