Marijuana shop inks host agreement with Lenox

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LENOX — Krishna Lenox, the company formed by hotel entrepreneur Navin Shah, is first out of the gate for one of the town's two available adult-use recreational retail marijuana permits.

The town's Select Board members and Shah signed the required host community agreement, reviewed by town counsel this week.

Now, the application goes to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a decision on a special permit and to the state Cannabis Control Commission for potential approval, starting with a provisional license. It could take more than a year until a final license might be granted.

"This is the first step in a very long road," said Lee-Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen at Wednesday's Select Board meeting.

Shah owns the parcel housing a long-vacant restaurant at the front of Lenox Commons at 55 Pittsfield Road. He recently opened the 94-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Main Street in Williamstown. Shah also owns the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, Day's Inn and Knights Inn, all in Lenox, and the Holiday Inn Express in Great Barrington.

Key elements of the agreement, as outlined by the commission and detailed by Shah's attorney, Jonathan Capano, include:

- A community impact fee of 3 percent of gross annual sales, including all transactions, for five years. The fee, which covers the town's expenses for hosting the shop, would be payable to the town in quarterly installments after Krishna Lenox receives a final license and "approval to sell" from the state commission and an occupancy permit from the town's building commissioner. It is subject to renegotiation after five years.

- A community outreach meeting to be held, before or at the time of the zoning board's public hearing for a special permit, for Shah to hear concerns of neighborhood residents and businesses on the facility's impact such as lighting, fencing and landscaping. The meeting would be followed by a written report to the Select Board describing comments and issues raised and the company's response.

- A $10,000 annual payment to the town for substance abuse prevention and mental health services, including school substance abuse education and counseling services. That payment will be open to renegotiation after five years, depending on the town's needs and any changes in the state law.

- Annual written reports detailing annual sales and compliance with all aspects of the host community agreement for seven years, as required by the state.

- Close cooperation with the Lenox Police Department to review and approve all security plans and to have access to the site as needed in case of any suspicious activities at or near the site, and to ensure that the marijuana products are not sold to minors or diverted to the illegal "black" market. Security plans include constant interior and exterior surveillance with sufficient lighting, multiple ID verifications and procedures to prevent loitering.

- Cooperation with the Fire Department and the Board of Health, as well as a log of town residents entering and exiting the facility, a state requirement.

- An effort to prioritize hiring of local residents and use of local vendors, businesses, suppliers, contractors and builders who are properly qualified and price-competitive.

- After a provisional license is granted, an architectural review by the CCC to examine the initial plans and layout for the site, including the location of security cameras. Construction will follow, ending with a final inspection by the commission and a "mock sale" with state-registered, trained employees. If all goes well, the commission greenlights the start of operations.

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The site has ample parking, said attorney Capano of the Boston firm Smith, Costello & Crawford.

"It's going to be a great location; a premier location," he said, pointing to the existing traffic signal controlling access to and from the four-lane Route 7/20 state highway.

But, Capano cautioned that the state commission is "under a tremendous amount of stress, completely overloaded with applicants."

Noting a major slowdown in the application process, "if you do it in 18 months, start to finish, you've hit an absolute home run," he said. "It's a slow process; they look at everything and turn over every stone."

Ketchen pointed out that in addition to the 3 percent community impact fee, the town also gets a permanent 3 percent sales tax based on the marijuana shop's revenue. The state collects an additional 17 percent of gross revenues in fees and taxes.

Shah first notified town officials last spring 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 with no new restaurateurs on the horizon.

Capano acknowledged that it's not clear whether the entire building will be used, pending final plans.

"We want to use the space to the best of its ability," he said.

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, most recently Bobby Mac's, which closed in early April 2018, after a five-month effort.

Previous tenants included Jae's Asian Bistro, now 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, went out of business in 2002.

Another potential retail marijuana business still is on the drawing boards.

Jim Nejaime, owner of Spirited Wines at Pittsfield and Holmes roads, told The Eagle on Friday that he still is exploring possible sites. Last year, he considered two Pittsfield Road locations, at Different Drummer's Kitchen and at the former Essencials Day Spa, adjacent to Papa John's and Electra Cafe, but decided to look elsewhere.

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


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