PITTSFIELD — The City Council voted Tuesday to ban any new commercial-scale outdoor cannabis-cultivation operations from the city.
The vote to adopt an amendment to the city’s zoning prohibiting future commercial cannabis-grow operations nearly was unanimous, with Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey the lone voice in opposition.
Implementing the ban represents perhaps the first time the council flatly has rejected recommendations of the city’s Community Development Board. The appointed board twice recommended that the council instead lean on the special permit process to ensure compliance by businesses and require a 500-foot setback of outdoor cultivation from any residential properties.
Councilors who voted in favor of the ban stressed that they did not oppose cannabis retail and, in some cases, indoor cultivation. They voiced concerns about the operations creating odor and negatively affecting residents’ quality of life, and expressed a desire to protect the city’s open space and neighborhoods while the cannabis industry booms.
Councilor Earl Persip III, who filed an earlier zoning proposal after residents raised concerns about Northeast Cultivation’s outdoor cultivation site on Pecks Road, dismissed the argument that cultivation could help struggling farmers, pointing out the prevalence of out-of-state companies in the industry.
Persip said the special permit process and proposed setbacks won’t protect neighborhoods and urged councilors to listen to the residents who started speaking out about the facility last year.
But, Kavey said that an outright ban goes too far, and that he supported the Community Development Board’s recommendations for regulating outdoor cultivation. While he agrees that some more-densely-populated neighborhoods are not appropriate for outdoor cultivation, he said there are parcels that are set far enough back from neighbors to work.
Not just out-of-state companies, but also locals, are interested in the industry, he said, adding that one ward resident has a 150-ace property and expressed interest in cultivating on the land. Kavey’s ward also is home to one of two permitted grow operations, on Barker Road.
The Barker Road and Pecks Road operations will be grandfathered in under their existing permits. Neither business has gone through a grow cycle yet, said City Planner C.J. Hoss.
Kavey said it is “unfair and unwise” not allow new people to enter the industry when “we have locals who are reaching out to us saying they’re thinking of doing the same thing” on land he viewed as suitable.
Councilors highlighted odor complaints lodged against Berkshire Roots’ indoor cultivation facility. Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi said the city always can revisit outdoor cannabis-cultivation zoning after the industry is more established, while Councilor Pete White said the ban doesn’t have to last forever but is the right thing for neighborhoods now.
“We’re too close to this marijuana boom … we need to figure out the game board,” Guiel Lampiasi said. “If we decide later that it’s appropriate in an area, we can have that talk.”