Developer eyes shuttered Lee paper mill for pot-growing site

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LEE — One of the town's vacant paper mills could find new life as a marijuana-growing facility.

A West Coast developer has unveiled plans to operate a cannabis-cultivation and manufacturing facility in the 159,000-square-foot Greylock Mill between Columbia and Greylock streets.

"It will be triple the size of our facility in California," said Franz Chan, founder and CEO of Zipbox Corp.

Chan and his development team officially submitted their proposal to the Lee Select Board on Tuesday night. Chan also is CEO and founder of Golden Tree & Co. Technology Corp., which operates a 50,000-square-foot pot-growing facility in Adelanto, Calif.

Zipbox has a purchase and sale agreement with the mill's owner, Lenox Development LLC, for $3.8 million. The deal is expected to close Friday. Lenox Development is a subsidiary of Niagara Worldwide, which purchased the mill property, and two others, in 2014.

The company would hire about 50 to 60 employees over two to three years, not counting administrative and office workers, at an entry-level annual salary of $60,000, according to the proposal. It would aim to hire half the workforce from the Lee area.

Zipbox plans to grow marijuana and manufacture high-grade cannabis oil extracts and edibles, which would be sold to wholesale and retail outlets throughout Massachusetts.

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The company has several hurdles to clear before it can revive the dormant mill: It needs to sign a host community agreement and obtain a special permit from the Select Board; obtain site plan approval from the Planning Board; and secure a state license from the Cannabis Control Commission.

The developer also must schedule a community outreach meeting to get feedback on the project, a gathering that could occur in mid-April, according to Roger Scheurer, the on-site project manager,

Since the 45-acre site is zoned industrial, town officials said a recreational marijuana facility is a by-right use for the property, which is located in a primarily residential area. While the renovations inside would be extensive, the only noticeable exterior changes would be improved landscaping, according to Scheurer.

Greylock was one of four mills that Schweitzer-Mauduit International shuttered in May 2008; the others were the Eagle and Columbia mills in Lee and Niagara Mill in nearby Lenox Dale. Niagara Worldwide of St. Louis and Niagara, Wis., bought Columbia, Greylock and Niagara from Schweitzer-Mauduit five years ago, but have done nothing with the factories.

The town likely can expect increased property tax revenue from an active Greylock Mill. The land and building are assessed at $1.7 million for tax purposes, compared with $5 million in 2008, the year the mill shut down.

"It would be great to get [the mill] back on the tax rolls and get some jobs out of it," said Selectman Thomas Wickham, also a Planning Board member.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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