Pittsfield City Council mulls pushing cannabis farms out of neighborhoods

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PITTSFIELD — Is cannabis cultivation the same as farming?

That question lay at the heart of a new petition taken up on Tuesday by the City Council. If approved, the zoning amendment would prohibit commercial cannabis cultivation in residential neighborhoods.

City planners intentionally left room in the current regulations so that local farmers could participate in the burgeoning cannabis industry. As it stands, farming is an allowed use in residential neighborhoods, and so is outdoor cannabis cultivation.

But some neighbors of a planned cultivation operation on Pecks Road voiced concerns in recent months, making the case that cannabis cultivation is not the same as farming. That project entails 30 to 40 hoop houses with about 100,000 square feet of canopy on land leased from Bill Mangiardi, a prominent local farmer.

In response outcry surrounding that project, Councilor at Large Earl Persip III put forward a petition to change the current regulations.

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Councilors voted on Tuesday to take on Persip's petition as a full body, though several noted the yes votes didn't necessarily mean they would vote in favor of the ban.

"With that said, it gives us an opportunity to kind of air this out," Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said, noting "I see both sides of the argument."

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The proposed zoning changes now go to the city's Community Development Board, which will hold a public hearing on the measure before taking a vote. The City Council will then hold another public hearing before taking a final vote.

"It's a two-month process, so I wanted to get the process going," Persip said.

Persip compared the move to ban pot farms in residential neighborhoods to one earlier this year that pushed solar farms out of residential zones.

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Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo said the two uses are different, and that the Zoning Board of Appeals has more latitude to reject cannabis projects because, unlike solar, it is not a protected use. And Caccamo said the city already underwent the regulatory process for cannabis last year. "I would caution the council with moving this forward," he said.

Caccamo cast the sole dissenting vote; Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon was not present.

Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said her department would take a neutral stance in the weeks ahead.

"It's very early in the development of this land use, and as a result it's challenging to know what the impacts to neighborhoods would be," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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