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Becket planners approve large cannabis grow house, amid questions about compliance and procedure

Last week, the Becket Planning Board approved a highly contested special permit for a cannabis grow facility on Quarry Road, but an attorney representing a group opposed to the project has left the door open to a challenge.

BECKET — Last week a divided Becket Planning Board approved a highly contested special permit for a cannabis grow facility with a greenhouse of more than 31,000 square feet, but an attorney representing a group opposed to the project has left the door open to a challenge.

The proposal by Tetrahydra Agtek for the facility on Quarry Road was approved with conditions — though it’s not yet clear precisely what those conditions are. The vote was 4-1, with board clerk Ann Krawet the lone dissenter. Even with a 3-2 positive vote, the proposal would have failed because special permit approvals require a supermajority.

As The Edge reported last month, dozens of neighbors and other town residents mobilized to oppose the project. It was the second attempt at obtaining a special permit for Tetrahydra, which unveiled plans last year for the largest outdoor grow facility permitted by the state Cannabis Control Commission, but ultimately withdrew the application and downsized it (click here to see the revised site plan) over concerns expressed by town residents at that time.

See Edge video below of the March 24 Becket Planning Board meeting:

The meeting was marked by some highly unusual procedures. After extensive discussion on the application, one planning board member made a motion to “take a vote.” Typically, motions under Robert’s Rules of Order are made to approve a motion or deny it, but not to simply “vote” on a proposal before the board.

After the motion was seconded, Chairman Robert Ronzio seemed to alter it, adding that his motion is “that we write up our thoughts and decide whether or not we are going to approve or disapprove this application for Tetrahydra.”

At that point, board members started typing on their computers — or reviewing what they had written in advance. After nearly 20 minutes, the last board member had finished writing. All five board members read their statements, some of which included commentary, while others included implied conditions. All stated a yes or no vote.

“Based on the full records of this applicant, as well as the majority support of vote by town residents to allow cultivation, the decision to conditionally approve the host community agreement by the selectboard and the requested adjustment made by the applicant, I vote to approve with the conditions approved,” said board member Alvin Blake.

quarry road tetrahydra agtek
Aerial view of 509 Quarry Road, the site of the proposed Tetrahydra grow facility. Image: Google Maps

“Given the conditions stipulated and the tax revenue and employment possibilities which I believe will benefit this town, conditional on the execution of conditions set forth by the Planning Board, I vote to grant the special permit to Tetrahydra under consideration at this time,” added James Levy.

Krawet objected to the proposal because she thought it violated the town zoning bylaw, specifically Section 9.4.1 regarding impacts on the unique and historic resources of the town and Section 6.8.8, which obligates the board to consider the “character of the neighborhood to include visual compatibility with surrounding uses.”

But it was not entirely clear which conditions had been approved earlier during the board’s deliberations. Ronzio said the next step is to take the motion to approve, “along with all the conditions, write this all up and get this to the town clerk.”

Becket Planning Board Chairman Bob Ronzio in 2016. Photo: Heather Bellow

The project also needs final approval from the Cannabis Control Commission, the town Conservation Commission to resolve any wetlands issues and the Board of Health for well and septic approvals.

Ronzio said once the material is received by the town clerk, there is an appeals period of 20 days. Any appeal will be made to a Superior Court in Pittsfield.

Opposition to the project has been well organized. Pittsfield attorney Mitchell I. Greenwald was hired to represent the collection of full- and part-time Becket residents opposed to the Tetrahydra proposal. Do his clients plan to take the town to court? Is the matter closed? Greenwald declined to say just yet.

“The matter is very much not closed, but as far as any appeal, we have to evaluate the written decision, and we are a long way from a written decision, from what I can see,” Greenwald said in an interview.

Greenwald had sent a letter dated the day of the Feb. 9 hearing documenting his objections to the proposal. Click here to read the three-page memorandum, which outlined his clients’ objections not only on odor impacts and on procedural grounds, but out of concerns about visual impact, parking, stormwater management, and proximity to wetlands and the quarry.

Becket Quarry. Photo courtesy Becket Land Trust Facebook page

Most of the conditions discussed early in the meeting involved odor mitigation requirements, lighting, off-street parking, fencing, screening, honoring the host community agreement previously negotiated with the selectboard and adequate police details during summer months when the nearby historic Becket Quarry is active with visitors.

At a March 16 selectboard meeting, some members of the public objected to Ronzio’s behavior during Planning Board meetings. Indian Lake Association President Laurie Thomas spoke of “a string of disturbing comments and diatribes directed at and about my community by” Ronzio, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The Edge.

“He has allowed speakers to go unchastened when they called us ‘Rich NIMBYs, living in an elitist enclave, and he himself has judged us ‘not neighbors of Quarry Road’ because of the average home price in Indian Lake,” Thomas said.

Ronzio could not be reached for comment and no one answered the phone at the Planning Board office Monday afternoon. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for April 13. The selectboard meets next on April 6.


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