SANDISFIELD — A company under contract for land to grow and manufacture wholesale cannabis clinched a financial agreement Monday with the town — should officials eventually grant it permission to build and operate.
But, the proposal by Sama Productions LLC off Abby and Town Hill Roads concerns residents worried that the town’s bucolic atmosphere might be sullied by cannabis commerce, harming property values. Residents also say that the project feels predatory, since the town does not yet have cannabis bylaws.
It prompted residents to ask the Select Board a number of questions Monday and to seek a six-month moratorium to prevent the pot outfits from coming to town until local cannabis regulations are on the books.
The board said it could not do that, on the advice of the town’s attorney, who said that it is too late to halt pot commerce legalized statewide a little more than four years ago. But, local cannabis regulations that still are under revision will be presented to voters at annual town meeting May 15. These will include restricting the number of retail shops to one and limiting the size of manufacturing and growing facilities, according to Select Board member George Riley.
Sama is planning to build about 23 greenhouses totaling 80,000 to 90,000 square feet, and a 5,000-square-foot building for processing.
The company, formerly known as Fulcrum Enterprises, had planned a smaller version at a site in Housatonic last year but shifted its focus to 75 acres near the Sandisfield State Forest after encountering fierce opposition from future neighbors worried about odors, noise and other potential fallout in a partly residential area.
On Monday, the board signed a host community agreement with Sama in which the company agrees to fees and taxes that include 3 percent on the first $5 million gross revenue for the community impact fee to the town.
The Select Board estimates that, with Sama’s $2 million to $3 million investment, it will pay $50,000 to $60,000 every year in real estate taxes, according to Riley.
Riley said that, in this far southeastern part of the county, this revenue is not insignificant in a town struggling with budgets and with at least 90 miles of roads to maintain.
“It’s the equivalent of having 100 average houses per year built in Sandisfield,” Riley said.
But, others are opposed. At least 40 residents have formed an unofficial group to monitor the situation.
“We’re going to ask a lot of questions,” said Leslie Garwood, who, in 2019, opposed another marijuana grower’s plans on land abutting hers.
“Sandisfield has not, in a timely way, taken the steps to protect the town by asking voters what they want,” she said.
Garwood noted that the town is one of about 22 municipalities in the state that haven’t written cannabis bylaws. “Sandisfield has dragged its feet,” she said.
Members of both boards are pointing fingers about where this fault lies.
While the Planning Board began writing the bylaws in 2019, the Select Board continued to send them back to that board for revision, and finally took on the task itself with input from residents, Riley said.
This latest draft will go back to the Planning Board, and will be posted to the town website.
If approved in May, the bylaws likely will prohibit a project the size of Sama’s. Regardless, a number of conditions will be required as part of the special permit, Riley said.
“We intend to act as if the bylaw was passed,” he added.
Residents see the permit hearings as the last defense.
Cindy True Cormier, an abutter, said she would be wary of any industry coming here, since she is raising her family in town because it is “wild.”
“If I were to put a little sound bite on a sign, it’s that, ‘factories don’t belong in the forest,’” she said. “There are plenty of industrial areas in this state, and I don’t know why this thing is going in the middle of the woods.”
John Heck, one’s of Sama’s principals, could not be reached for comment. In December, he noted that the facility at this site will be unobtrusive to nearby homes.
“It is a much less populated area, and the location of our property and buildings will be such that they won’t be seen at all,” he said.