Great Barrington pot grower drops special permit application

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A company seeking approval for a pot growing operation has withdrawn its application for a special permit, but will likely resubmit the application to give town officials time to thoroughly scrutinize changes to the plan and new reports about details like odor control and noise.

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski announced Friday evening that Fulcrum Enterprises LLC withdrew its application for a greenhouse growing and manufacturing business in an industrial park off Van Deusenville Road.

The continuance of a public hearing for the permit was scheduled for Monday night. Instead, Fulcrum officials will ask the town Select Board to let the company withdraw "without prejudice," which will allow it to resubmit its application amid a bevy of new reports and studies about the project conducted since Fulcrum's initial public hearing in September. This would also give the company time to further adjust its plans, according to Select Board member Leigh Davis.

It also removes the risk of the board denying the permit, which would force Fulcrum to wait two years to resubmit, Davis said.

The news came the day after the Planning Board postponed its own decision about whether to approve Fulcrum's plans and issue some conditions for the permit, given the new information.

Fulcrum is proposing 13 greenhouses for a total of 58,500 square feet to grow plants with organic fertilizer in raised beds. Oils extracted from the plants will be sold wholesale.

Initially, the firm would build 80,000 square feet of greenhouse space, but the owners said they had to shrink the size to turn the footprint of each 90 degrees so exhaust fans would blow to the east towards the river, away from homes. Each greenhouse will have only one fan instead of two, further reducing noise, which a study has pegged as below the nuisance threshold.

But odor and plans to control it still tops the list of neighborhood worries. And a newly released odor study calls into question the probability of success for the company's chosen odor control method.

Fulcrum co-owner John Heck told The Eagle that the company would be purchasing several Nasal Rangers — portable field olfactometers — and would strictly monitor odors, especially during the flowering season in the fall. He said any complaints would be addressed and the odor neutralizer adjusted to fix the problem.

Heat and grow lights

Still, opponents of the project are still doggedly opposed to Fulcrum's choice of its Van Deusenville site. At the Planning Board's site plan review on Thursday, they raised the same ongoing questions about odor from flowering plants, the chemicals used to control the odor, potential groundwater and other concerns.

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And another change emerged from Fulcrum's revised plans. Board member Jonathan Hankin spotted it — that Fulcrum plans to use blue grow lights and heat inside the greenhouses.

Engineer James Scalise of SK Design Group, Inc. said that the addition of interior grow lights and heat is to compensate for the reduced size of the greenhouses. But the revelation presented new ammunition for opponents to suggest a duplicitous turnaround from what was initially billed as an all-natural operation.

"Now we're talking industrial greenhouse growing," said resident Rachel Kelley, who lives nearby in Housatonic.

In his presentation about site details like traffic and landscaping, Scalise said that butane and other chemicals used for manufacturing will used in such small quantities that they present little risk, and will be stored in a state-approved manner. He also said that there is no industrial wastewater or the need to contain hazardous material.

But none of this was a comfort to nearby residents, who say they don't think the operation is right for that site, even if it is zoned for industry.

"There are other industrial location that are more suited," said Trevor Forbes, adding that the town's Community Master Plan notes the potential for new residential development in this area of Housatonic.

Board member Malcolm Fick reiterated that the Planning Board can apply conditions for Fulcrum's special permit.

So can the Select Board, which is in charge of the host agreement with the town — this can impose compliance with standards for nuisance issues.

Heck reminded The Eagle that the state's Cannabis Control Commission, which renews licenses annually, has the company on a tight leash.

"We have to be compliant," he said. "If we're out of compliance the state can decide not to renew our license."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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