Lenox ZBA to hear pitch for town's first recreational cannabis shop

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LENOX — The owner of a proposed adult-use recreational marijuana shop, potentially the first in the town, is set to make his pitch for approval at an upcoming zoning board public hearing.

Hospitality industry entrepreneur Navin Shah, president of Berkshire Hotels Group, and his attorney, Andrew Hochberg of Pittsfield, are scheduled for the hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 at a site to be announced.

The project's special permit application was submitted to the ZBA in late February, but a public hearing slated for April 1 had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shah, through his Krishna Lenox firm, is seeking a special permit to operate the facility on property his company, BHG Group, LLC, owns at the entrance to Lenox Commons, 55 Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 & 20).

If approved by the ZBA and eventually licensed by the state's Cannabis Control Commission, Navin's new business would set up shop inside a large building that has hosted multiple restaurants, thus securing the first of two available retail marijuana operations approved by the town in the commercial trip along the state highway.

Last January, the Select Board and Shah signed the required host community agreement, the first step in the lengthy, complex process of obtaining first a provisional and then a final license from the state commission.

The agreement provides for a 17 percent state sales tax for all transactions, a 3 percent local sales tax and a community impact fee up to 3 percent of gross annual sales for five years, subject to renegotiation at that time.

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Shah first notified town officials in the spring of 2019 of his interest in pursuing a retail marijuana license. "The restaurant business did not work out," he told The Eagle at the time, so, he decided to go in a different direction, since the building had been vacant since April 2018 with no new restaurant operators in sight.

The 7,200-square-foot building had been a 209-seat restaurant with a full liquor license. It has had a half-dozen operators this century; prior to Bobby Mac's five-month run, previous tenants included Jae's Asian Bistro, relocated to the Hilton Garden Inn on South Street in Pittsfield, Tex-Mex, Berkshire Harvest and the Bennigan's chain. The Lenox House restaurant, a successful 40-year venture, closed in 2002.

Shah's lodging holdings include the 94-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Main Street in Williamstown; the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, Day's Inn and Knights Inn, all in Lenox, and the Holiday Inn Express in Great Barrington.

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The special permit application on file at Town Hall and available at townoflenox.com includes the following provisions:

— A detailed security and safety plan to prevent unauthorized entrance and theft of marijuana, ID requirements limiting access to customers 21 or older, proper storage of products under lock and key, exterior lighting sufficient to allow surveillance, constant video surveillance of the interior and exterior, and keeping products "out of plain sight." The plan would be shared with the town's police and fire departments and Lenox Police will have live and direct access to the video surveillance system.

— A full-time, unarmed security guard hired to manage and control lines of customers who would be checked in quickly to wait in an interior vestibule for screening.

— A traffic study by Fuss & O'Neill engineers stating that "the dispensary use is expected to have less traffic activity associated with it than the former restaurant."

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— Acknowledgement that there are no designated parking spaces for the proposed store, although there are 30 spaces in the immediate vicinity shared with neighboring businesses in the mixed-use development. Krishna will ask employees to find alternative transportation to the site and will meet with the other businesses if parking becomes an issue as well as with town officials "to ensure this traffic and parking plan remains fully compliant."

An "odor plan" filed with the special permit application calls for cleansing the air by placing carbon filters on the sales floor, the product vault and the receiving vestibule, as well as near exits, operational doors or odor escape areas.

Signage will conform with town zoning bylaws, the application states, and the logo will not include "medical symbols, images of marijuana or related paraphernalia, or colloquial references to cannabis and marijuana." Any external signs will not be illuminated from 30 minutes before sundown until closing.

Another potential retail marijuana business still is being explored, said Jim Nejaime, owner of Spirited Wines at Pittsfield and Holmes roads. He told The Eagle he continues planning a new 2,000-square-foot building next to his shop.

In March, the Select Board approved a host community agreement for the potential project proposed by Nejaime's Cedar Wellness LLC.

Nejaime and his partner, Stephen Abraham, had previously considered two other Pittsfield Road locations, at Different Drummer's Kitchen and at the former Essencials Day Spa, adjacent to Papa John's and Electra Cafe, before settling on a plan to add a building at his current location.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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