Williamstown zoning board wants a whiff before signing off on pot-growing site

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The Zoning Board of Appeals wants to smell some weed.

One of the requests the board members had for the developer seeking to establish a marijuana-growing facility just off Green River Road during a public hearing Thursday night was to see if it could bring in a flowering marijuana plant so they could smell the aroma it gives off.

A Colorado business owner is proposing to build a marijuana-cultivation operation on farmland at 295 Blair Road. According to forms filed with the town, Massflora LLC is seeking approvals to set up the operation on the 20-acre lot using existing barns and a 7,000-square-foot greenhouse that would be built on the parcel. There would be an 8-foot screening fence installed around the 5-acre growing field, with cameras for added security. The company also owns two marijuana-cultivation facilities in Colorado.

In order to proceed to the next step required by state regulators, Massflora needs to obtain a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

During the public hearing, numerous neighbors of the proposed site expressed grave concerns about the odor that might emanate from the farm during the summer growing months, using comparisons to the smell of skunks. They expressed fear that the smell could induce breathing issues in the very young or elderly.

Neighbor Peter Dolan said the board should deny the permit because it would result in adverse effects to the area.

"This would be disastrous to the vicinity and the neighborhood," he said. "It is a maximal risk with the odor that can have unknown effects to children and the elderly with breathing afflictions."

Another neighbor pointed out that fencing, security alarms and lights are not a good fit for the little neighborhood.

"This is not an agricultural use for a rural area," he said. "It is an industrial use."

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Another neighbor introduced a petition urging denial that was signed by about 100 residents of Willliamstown.

There were also concerns raised about increased traffic, possible noise, effects to the scenic viewscape and the potential for thieves to come to the site to steal marijuana from the grow facility.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection evaluated the site for wetland issues and didn't find anything that would violate state policy, and the Williamstown Conservation Commission voted to allow the use, as there were no issues with encroaching on wetlands.

The attorney for the applicant, Don Dubendorf, said that once operation is underway, there would be eight to 10 employees.

He noted that the fencing is opaque and would not allow the crops to be visible, and that in the summer, trees around the farm will significantly screen the rest of the property. He also noted that other varieties of aromatic plants could be planted around the grow field to screen the smell.

The land is zoned RR2, in which agricultural uses are permitted.

After public input, members of the board continued the hearing until their next meeting scheduled for April 18. They also asked the applicant to provide more data on increased traffic and wondered how they could get a feel for the kind of odor that can be expected from a grow facility.

Board Chairman Andrew Hoar said he is quite familiar with smells associated with dairy farms and pig farms, but he never had experienced the aroma from a marijuana crop. He wondered if a flowering plant could be brought to the next meeting so board members could have more context on the issue.

Dubendorf said the Massflora team would see what it could come up with.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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