Hearing for pot farm sparks anger and threats of removal from Selectboard Chair
Great Barrington — Roughly 100 people showed up at the Claire Teague Senior Center Monday night with a message as clear as a cloudless sky: We don’t want a marijuana factory near us.
Even before the public hearing held by the selectboard for a special permit sought by Fulcrum Enterprises, concerned residents picketed during the site visit that preceded the hearing and, later, in front of the senior center itself.
On several occasions during the hearing, Chairman Steve Bannon rapped his gavel and warned hecklers that they would be removed from the room if they persisted. Bannon also said it was unlikely the board would vote on the permit that night. That turned out to be true, as the hearing was continued to Monday, Sept. 23.
Before the meeting, the board visited the site at 22 VanDeusenville Road and was taken on a brief tour by consulting engineer Jim Scalise of SK Design Group. See video below of the site visit:
At the hearing, the board heard from experts on odor control, security, engineering and cultivation — all hired by Fulcrum, which wants to construct a large cannabis grow facility in an industrial area just south of the village of Housatonic.
Former selectman Dan Bailly, who lives in the village not far from the Fulcrum site, asked the board members if any of them were experts on cannabis production. Since Bannon made it clear that the board would not entertain questions during the hearing, Bailly’s query was rhetorical, so he proceeded to answer it himself.
“I could get up here and tell you I’m an expert about something,” Bailly said. “I’m an expert on odor control because I can smell bullshit from a mile away. I’ve smelled it in this room all night.”
“You guys have a duty to find out the information; they can tell you what they want because they’re hired to do so,” Bailly continued, referring to Fulcrum’s team. “It’s your obligation to find out if what they say is true and [if] it will not impact all these people in this room.”
With his allotted three minutes of time running out, Bailly turned away from the lectern and walked away, igniting thunderous applause from the crowd of sometimes angry skeptics of the project.
It was that kind of night. Perhaps 25 town residents came forward with concerns ranging from noise and odors to the effect of the Fulcrum project on property values and the impact of the water supply from the private Housatonic Water Works in the event of a drought (HWW treasurer Jim Mercer has said his company has plenty of excess capacity to supply the estimated 2 million gallons per year needed).
But first, Fulcrum attorney Kate McCormick and Fulcrum’s technical experts explained the project. See video below:
As proposed, the facility would be sited on 5.78 acres in an industrial area that is also zoned for industry. There will be 80,000 square feet of fully enclosed greenhouses for cannabis cultivation along with an earthtone metal building of some 5,000 square feet square feet that will house a manufacturing facility, which, in turn, will contain the facilities to produce cannabis extracts and oils.
McCormick noted that if Fulcrum wanted to grow anything other than cannabis at the site, the activity would be by-right, meaning that no special permit would be needed. The special permit and Tier 9 cultivation licensing from the state Cannabis Control Commission are needed only because of the special nature of the product Fulcrum wants to grow.
McCormick said the plants will be grown through sunlight cultivation, with odor controls and a security plan as required by the CCC. The facility will have a low impact on town services, create jobs and increase the tax base, she said.
There will be an initial hiring of four employees with a payroll of $300,000, including benefits. Fulcrum estimates the business will pay more than $15,000 in personal and property taxes to the town, with an annual $10,000 donation to a charity and, if the company gets its way in negotiations for a host community agreement, it will pay a tax to the town of the equivalent of 1.5% in annual gross sales.
Many were skeptical of the numbers and, like Bailly, of the reassuring words and statistics trotted out by Fulcrum’s hired experts. But the town has hired — or is about to hire — experts of its own in the area of odor control, water and noise. Those hires, known as peer reviewers, will be at Fulcrum’s expense.
See video below of comments from the audience:
During the public comment portion of the meeting, which featured at least 25 speakers and lasted 75 minutes, Division Street resident and town finance committee member Michelle Loubert presented a petition signed by 300 residents opposed to the project.
Loubert, along with Trevor and Denise Forbes, a couple who own a small inn on North Plain Road, hired Pittsfield attorney Mitchell Greenwald to represent them. Both of the Forbeses and Greenwald also spoke.
At the end of the public comment period, talk turned to the proposed host community agreement between Fulcrum and the town. Typically, the agreement is one of the first steps in the process and is often signed before other permits are obtained.
But the selectmen demurred this time in the face of so much controversy and acrimony, with only Ed Abrahams suggesting the town sign the agreement last night as proposed by Fulcrum. The agreement will likely be negotiated after the special permit is obtained, if indeed it ever is.
Last month the planning board, which is conducting an ongoing site plan review for the project, recommended to the selectboard that the special permit be granted. Last week the board of health declined to sign off on it, insisting it needed more information on noise, odor and possible effects on groundwater.
The cultivation, sale and use of recreational cannabis-related products was legalized in Massachusetts through a 2016 ballot initiative. The measure passed by almost 7.5 percentage points statewide and by almost 30 points in Great Barrington. Implementation of the new law was left to the hastily created state Cannabis Control Commission. Preceding that law, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012 through the same process.
Some of the residents who spoke out Monday night against the Fulcrum project acknowledged that they had voted for the legalization of recreational marijuana three years ago but insisted they had profound concerns about this particular proposal for the grow facility in their town.