Potential neighbors raise a stink over pot-growing proposal for Great Barrington
GREAT BARRINGTON — Cannabis growers and town officials say it is industry in an industrial zone. But people who live in the neighborhood don't feel good about it.
And the growers say the place will be quiet, and that they will neutralize the smell of flowering marijuana plants. But the surrounding neighbors don't believe them.
About a dozen residents listened skeptically Thursday at Town Hall as the Planning Board — it was short an associate member who recused himself and joined the opposition — conducted a three-hour review of a proposed cannabis cultivation and extraction operation off Van Deusenville Road. It would be the first of its kind in town, and something that local residents say might aggravate their peace, possibly compromise safety, offend their noses and harm their property values.
"I am angry, and I am afraid," said Michelle Loubert, who owns a home nearby and who submitted a memo to the board with a host of concerns. "Next summer, will I be able to sleep with the windows open, or will the exhaust fans keep us awake?"
In a unanimous vote, all five members of the board voted to give Fulcrum Enterprises LLC a positive recommendation to the Select Board based on the project meeting its specific site review criteria. It did not get into the social and economic aspects of the project.
On Sept. 9, the Select Board will take a broader view and decide whether to give the company a special permit to run its business at the site.
Fulcrum then would need two licenses from the state's Cannabis Control Commission — one for cultivation and another for manufacturing — for a project whose total cost still is unknown, according to Fulcrum co-owner John Heck.
The Thursday meeting came after a visit by the board to the property, and a protest outside Town Hall by about a dozen opponents who said town officials should hire their own specialists to make sure they aren't just listening to experts hired by the company.
Fulcrum plans to grow the plants in 80,000 square feet of closed greenhouses. It then would dry, process and extract oils for the wholesale market in two buildings, including a small laboratory.
The project has been met with suspicion and hostility from nearby residents since the company announced last spring that it was eyeing the industrial parcel at 22 Van Deusenville Road. The 5.8 acres are part of a larger swath of former farmland along the railroad tracks that is sandwiched between the Nolan Drive industrial park and a commercial solar array.
Across the street is an auto parts salvage yard, and nearby are more large solar farms, as well as a train-disassembling yard and propane company. Several mountains of dirt and gravel would be removed to make way for the 18-foot-high greenhouses with raised beds inside.The whole parcel would be surrounded by a 6-foot-high chain-link fence with green fabric cover, as required by state law.
But there also are a handful of homes across the street, and in Housatonic, neighborhoods nearby. Residents worry that adding more industry and manufacturing could bring all sorts of problems to the area, including traffic, noise and the skunky scent of cannabis.
But the company's four partners — they include two experts who have established and run similar operations out west — say this will be a simple, organic, sunlight-only affair that is akin to growing flowers, except that state law requires fencing and surveillance, and that extracting oils from the plants requires solvents and a certified, fireproof laboratory.
"This is very simple — like any type of nursery," said David Ross, one of Fulcrum's owners.
They also say the business would have only four regular employees, with a maximum of about 10 during the harvesting season in September.
There would be seven parking spaces, said engineer James Scalise of SK Design Group, who also estimates a maximum of 67 vehicle trips per day to and from the site. There wouldn't be any company signs or lighting in the greenhouses — day or night, instead, only motion-sensitive lights that would activate if someone tripped the security system. A careful planting plan along the roadway and around the greenhouses would help screen and soften the picture, he said.
Brandee Nelson, chairwoman of the board, was emphatic that screening be done just right.
"We have unhappy neighbors," she said. "Let's acknowledge the residential, and do more buffering."
Fulcrum attorney Katherine McCormick pointed out that the site sits in a bona fide industrial zone.
"But that doesn't make anybody feel any better," Nelson said.
Neither does the prospect of pot plants that stink up the area.
Fulcrum hired an odor mitigation expert to develop a plan to add an automated system to the exhaust fans in each greenhouse that, he said, would neutralize the smell.
John O'Brien, of NCM Odor Control, said the fans would trip activation of a mist composed of essential oils and emulsifiers that are not a biohazard and have a 22-day life span after they have evaporated.
"You could drink it," he said of the product called SL-4000, adding that it isn't recommended to do so, since it isn't food-grade.
He said he could not provide a full list of ingredients, though, because it is a "proprietary formula."
But NCM's website says its ingredients are Environmental Protection Agency-approved, "biodegradable," and meet the Food and Drug Administration's criteria for its list known as GRAS, or "Generally Recommended As Safe."
O'Brien, who has provided odor control to a pot grower in Bend, Ore., for the past four years, explained that the plants emit their odor during the flowering period, about six weeks long.
Most of O'Brien's clients are landfills and transfer stations, including one in Chicopee and others in the state. He said he has been in this business for 15 years.
The smell is caused by the terpenes in the plant, the compounds that produce its oils, and something that has pit residents against businesses in states that have legalized pot. In Santa Barbara, Calif., for instance, an odor-control system in one grower's greenhouses has helped calm tensions.
According to High Times magazine, there are other solutions that include indoor ventilation in greenhouses, but this comes with the challenge of adding climate-control systems.
Heck later told The Eagle that it is research into technical information that gives Fulcrum confidence that "we will be good neighbors," despite a business that is on a "learning curve."
And it won't be a retail shop, added Heck, who said he is negotiating a host agreement with the town and a purchase agreement for the property, which is listed at about $680,000.
"We won't have lines around the block," Heck said. "We're going to be closed to the public. It will be a very quiet, nondemanding site."
Residents are unconvinced about all of it.
"Just to accept it as gospel is very dangerous," said Douglas Stephenson, a former selectman who protested before the meeting. "[The Select Board] needs to hire its own odor-control specialist to tear their application apart."
Stephenson also told board members that the neighborhood is full of children.
"The kids, when they get on the school bus, are going to have to deal with this every day," he said.
Garfield Reed, an associate member of the Planning Board, left his seat at the table and went to sit with residents. He thinks odor control is a gamble. He also thinks town officials might be selling out residents by getting excited over the potential for more tax and marijuana revenue.
"Let's look at it morally," he said. "It seems like there's some disrespect for that area in the town."
Trevor Forbes, who said he moved here from the United Kingdom 10 years ago for the bucolic views and fresh air, said he also is concerned about flammable chemicals, such as butane, used for processing. An article in Politico last year about explosions and fires at cannabis factories has sparked worries about this.
"We came here to improve our quality of life, not to destroy our quality of life," he said.
James Bailly said the board didn't do its own "homework" and made its decision based on what company officials and their consultants said.
Several residents worried about noise from exhaust fans in the 15 greenhouses. Board member Jonathan Hankin asked that Fulcrum provide a decibel level.
The company would have to comply with whatever conditions the Select Board sets if it grants Fulcrum a permit Sept. 9.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
This story has been modified to remove an incorrect description of Michelle Loubert's address.
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