Pittsfield board not keen on outdoor pot ban, but will consider zoning tweaks

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PITTSFIELD — A proposed ban on outdoor cannabis cultivation in Pittsfield would protect neighboring property owners from a host of uncertain side effects, say its proponents.

Meantime, those who oppose a zoning amendment under consideration by the city's Community Development Board say it would eliminate a cash crop that small farmers could use to buoy struggling enterprises.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III brought the measure forward in response to some residents, whose concerns grew out of a planned cultivation facility on Pecks Road. The Community Development Board began its review last week and will continue it in another meeting next week, at 6 p.m. on Jan. 21.

The City Council will get the final say on whether or not to change regulations as they stand.

Caitlin Pemble, of Pecks Road, said her name joins some 149 others on a petition opposing outdoor pot in residential neighborhoods.

Marijuana grow operations bring commercial-grade lighting, security and fencing, she said, and those qualities are not in keeping with a neighborhood's character.

"That is what I would describe as a very prison-like atmosphere," she told the board last week.

Tim Coe, of Lark Street, said commercial cannabis and residential areas don't mesh, pointing to transportation of product on and off the property as well as the odor that comes with flowering marijuana plants.

"We need to preserve and protect the quality of life for our children," he said, "not weaken it."

Town planners for Lenox and Richmond approved strict zoning regulations that protect its residents from such unintended consequences, said Michele Rivers Murphy, of Wren Street, who asked the Pittsfield board to do the same. Murphy also mentioned moratoriums that regulators have imposed in the country's western states to address concerns from neighbors.

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"Indisputably, let's agree: pot stinks," she said.

But the growing season in Massachusetts is much shorter, opponents of the ban pointed out. And because the commonwealth rolled out regulations slowly and deliberately, outdoor cannabis can only exist on large properties and at relatively low densities, said Suehiko Ono, founder of Eos Farm on Barker Road.

Nick Caccamo, a city councilor who spoke as a citizen, proposed the board look for common ground between the opposing sides rather than "a blanket ban."

Proponents of the prohibition did not find allies on the board, whose members said they'd sooner vote to oppose the zoning amendment than for it. Still, they decided to continue the discussion to allow room for some possible adjustments.

While the state does not list cannabis as an agricultural product, board member Libby Herland said it's still a plant and its designation could soon change. And Pittsfield is a "right-to-farm community," she said, which means those who live near farms can be expected to tolerate farm-related noise, smells, dust and traffic.

Plus, Herland said, state laws don't allow for more than 100,000 square feet of outdoor canopy.

"It's really more of an open-space farmland issue," she said.

Gary Levante, another board member, said he agreed that property owners should enjoy some protections from a neighboring cannabis facility, and that perhaps the board should consider some common sense changes in that regard.

But he was not in favor of an outright ban.

"I would prefer us to take a more forward-thinking approach," he said.

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


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