WILLIAMSTOWN — Outdoor cultivation of marijuana is still a hot topic in town.
A public hearing of the Planning Board, a required step before allowing a proposed bylaw change to be addressed at town meeting, drew supporters and opponents regarding a proposal that would allow 100,000 square feet of canopy for outdoor marijuana cultivation.
The proposal would allow marijuana cultivation in rural/residential zones RR2 and RR3 on parcels of at least 5 acres with a canopy of no more than 100,000 square feet.
Proponents pointed to benefits for local farmers and the economy. Opponents noted the possibility of odors, the need for high security and the effect it could have on the “viewscape.”
After the public hearing, the proposed bylaw changes next will go to the Select Board to approve for the town meeting warrant. To pass at town meeting, the proposal would have to win with at least a two-thirds majority of votes.
Some who live in these areas are concerned by tales of the smell of growing cannabis plants, and neighborhood security.
Planning Board Chairwoman Stephanie Boyd pointed out that the proposed changes include more rules for outdoor cultivation than is required by the town.
Boyd said that cutting the size from 100,000 square feet to 50,0000 or even 5,000 square feet wouldn’t achieve anything, because all the issues still would exist; it would only serve to limit a farmer’s ability to capitalize on the new crop.
Local resident Paul Haklisch said the board missed the mark on many issues.
“We’re inviting out-of-state corporations to come in and exploit our community,” he said. “This is not for the farmers.”
Local farmer Brian Cole, a member of the town Agricultural Commission, said the state Cannabis Control Commission already has a number of required cautions, “and I think you are extending those cautions in a reasonable way, and this is not a bylaw driven by fear.”
Another resident, Averill Cook, said the proposal was good for local farmers.
“The agricultural community in Williamstown is bleeding and in need, and this bylaw offers some hope,” he said. “It has the potential to overcome the high taxes the farmers face.”
Others expressed grave concerns about the possibility of a marijuana-growing facility close to the high school.
The state also requires that any cannabis operation be at least 500 feet from the front door of a school building. But, at Mount Greylock Regional Middle/High School, 500 feet from the front door doesn’t even reach the property lines, leading to concerns about what impact a neighboring cultivation site could have on students at the school.
Stan Parese, a real estate attorney based in Williamstown, expressed concern about that possibility. He also is worried about the amount of security needed for a marijuana grow, which includes cameras, and that the security training of employees would include scenarios of armed robbery and active shooters.
The proposal would allow for up to 100,000 square feet of marijuana cultivation, or about 2.3 acres, on at least a 5-acre parcel. It requires a grow of less than 1 acre to have a 150-foot setback from property boundaries and public roads and neighboring homes, while a grow of more than 1 acre would have a 200-foot setback from public roads.
All grows would have to be at least 500 feet from any neighboring residence.
The state requires fencing around the cultivation site. That fencing cannot be visible from roads or neighboring properties and should be screened by vegetation or topography.
The Planning Board proposal also would require that lighting not be visible at night, and that the “best available technology” be used to disperse odors generated by the flowering plants.
Boyd noted that there are a number of properties under conservation classifications that render them unable to host a cannabis-cultivation operation. Topography further reduces the possibilities. But, other parcels would work under the proposed bylaw change.
She also pointed to increased tax revenue for the town and new local jobs.
Jeanne Marklin, a community member, said that “if you own agricultural land, you should be allowed to decide what you do on your land. And I don’t think any other crop has been limited because of the way it smells. I have faith in what you’ve come up with, and I have faith in our farmers.”