LENOX — A proposed recreational marijuana operation at the Cork ’N Hearth restaurant location, just over the Lee town line, has raised opposition about a host of issues, from the impact on the adjacent Laurel Lake waterfront to traffic and environmental concerns.
At last week’s Select Board meeting, Selectman David Roche pointed out that he has received “a relatively large number of emails and letters from residents of the area who are against it.” He also noted concern expressed by parents whose families frequent the town beach on Laurel Lake, which is directly below the restaurant’s parking lot.
“It’s a touchy situation,” Roche said, as he requested that the topic be included on the agenda of the next Select Board meeting, at 7 p.m. Feb. 10.
Principals of Forest Wilde LLC, the company seeking Lee’s second pot shop, plan to convert the restaurant into about 2,600 square feet of retail space. The remaining 3,100 square feet would be for manufacturing cannabis products along with office space in a 400-square-foot addition to 120-year-old building.
They have requested a special permit hearing before the Lee Select Board to open a retail store and manufacturing operation at the site. The hearing has yet to be scheduled, but it is required to be held no later than 65 days after the firm’s application for the hearing, unless extensions are granted by mutual agreement.
The company’s co-owners, Cassandra Purdy, of Roxbury, Conn., Jason Song, of Monroe, Conn., and Jeanne Carmichael, of Lee, also have to seek a state license from the Cannabis Control Commission.
The company would pay Lee the state-required 3 percent impact fee on all sales and the town-adopted 3 percent direct sales tax. Forest Wilde projects annual gross sales of $6 million to $8 million, a payroll of 25 full- and 10 part-time employees and 46 on-site parking spaces, with the main entrance on the upper level of the building adjoining the parking area.
The restaurant, sandwiched between the Lenox town beach and the Lakehouse Inn just across the town line, remains open for dining and takeout orders from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. But, its owners are aiming to retire after 25 years.
“This isn’t a young man’s job,” said Chris Ryan, 60, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Jasmine.
Residents have cited traffic safety issues involving access to and from the site along the heavily traveled state highway, especially during the summer tourism season, as well as before and after Tanglewood performances.
The Lakehouse Inn has 16 guest rooms and an owners’ residence. And directly across Laurel Street (Route 20) are The Landing at Laurel Lake, an assisted living residence with 66 beds in 53 units, and Lee Healthcare, a nursing center with 88 beds.
According to state law, anyone living within 300 feet of a proposed project’s property line has the right to appear at any special permit hearing, even if they reside in a neighboring town.
Writing on behalf of a homeowners association representing 11 Bramble Lane families in Lenox, Kerry and Jean Marie Stein contended that the marijuana enterprise “will greatly diminish the feel, beauty, culture and most importantly, the health of the lake which currently hosts two inns, two restaurants, a boat launch, two beaches, Miraval’s waterfront activities, a farm, a park, a pair of nesting bald eagles, and many residences.”
In their letter to the Select Board, the Steins described Laurel Lake as “a jewel of the Berkshires and an outdoor recreational destination for many.”
“We are not anti-marijuana or marijuana dispensaries,” they wrote. “We understand their valuable economic reward to our communities. However, given there are a very limited number of dispensaries allowed per town, we are very eager to see each one situated in the best possible location so that it maximizes its potential and the tax revenue paid to the towns.”
Their letter of opposition described the Cork ’N Hearth site as “a terrible location, [which] will produce suboptimal results for all residents and delay the [town of Lee’s] ability to reap its benefits.”
The residents listed proximity to the Lenox town beach among their top concerns. They cited a Lee town bylaw barring any marijuana retailer from locating closer than 500 feet from “any school, place of worship, any type of child care facility or other similar facility where minors commonly congregate and are the primary population served by the facility.”
Their letter also referred to a Lenox bylaw barring a marijuana business from locating “closer than 200 feet from any school, day care center, public park or playground where minors may commonly congregate.”
In addition to traffic safety concerns, the residents also cited potential odors, environmental impacts such as water runoff, and light pollution.
Another letter, by Lenox resident Emily Norman, stated that she represents concerned Lenox families with younger children and teenagers who oppose having a marijuana business so close to the town beach.
“Children who frequent the beach should not be exposed to second-hand pot smoke, people who are under the influence (of pot or alcohol) or dispensary customers who might be tempted to enter the town beach illegally,” she wrote. “Our children should be able to play on the beach, make sand castles and splash around in water without smelling or inhaling weed, which has a distinct, strong odor.”
Norman asked the Lenox Select Board to join opposing families by encouraging the Lee Select Board and the Forest Wilde applicants to consider a different location in Lee.
“We are deeply concerned and feel strongly that public areas like the town beach should be protected and buffered from both dispensaries and/or liquor stores and should be designated as a ‘safe haven’ for our town and our families,” Norman stated.
In an email to The Eagle, the developers stated that they will not cultivate marijuana, “which greatly reduces the concern regarding odor. However, Forest Wilde is still implementing odor control measures for its product manufacturing and retail areas as appropriate.”