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With hearing on pot-growing proposal set for Monday, company changes its plan, then withdraws

The proposal, first made public in September, has alarmed residents of the neighborhood, whose concerns range from noise and odors to the effect of the Fulcrum project on property values and the aforementioned impact on the water supply.

Editor’s Note: This story and headline have been updated to reflect late word that Fulcrum has told the town it intends to ask that its application for a special permit be withdrawn.

Great Barrington — In advance of Monday night’s (January 13) continuation of the public hearing for Fulcrum Enterprises’ controversial proposal to grow cannabis and manufacture related products on Van Deusenville Road, the town has released two more reports on the potential impacts of the project on the neighborhood.

But just as this story was published, the town announced that Fulcrum has requested that its application for a special permit be withdrawn without prejudice.

“If the request is not approved by a majority vote, the applicant reserves the right to request a continuation of the public hearing to a date, time, and location certain as approved by the board,” Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said in a statement.

Town manager Mark Pruhenski Friday released a pair of additional studies commissioned by the town: one on acoustics and another on water use. Click here to see the report on sound and here to see the report on water supply and demand. Just before the new year, the town also released its own study on odor impacts.

An aerial view of the proposed cannabis production facility on Van Deusenville Road. The site is boxed in black. Lot lines are in purple. Image courtesy Fulcrum Enterprises LLC

The sound report is essentially a peer review by Acentech, a consulting firm based in Cambridge, of Fulcrum’s own revised acoustics assessment report submitted last month. As required, Fulcrum has paid not only for its own studies but the town’s peer review studies as well.

Acentech says Fulcrum’s own study “concluded that the predicted sound for the facility at the nearest community residences meets both state and local noise requirements and that no noise mitigation measures are required for the project during day and night operation.”

With a neighboring solar array as a backdrop, consulting engineer Jim Scalise of SK Design Group reviews schematics of 22 VanDeusenville Road, the proposed site of Fulcrum Enterprises’ cannabis grow facility, with the Great Barrington Selectboard in September 2019. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Acentech’s study credits the method used by Fulcrum’s consultant but adds that noise emitted by the operations could exceed acceptable levels “during the quietest daytime and nighttime periods — in seasons without cicadas or spring peepers.”

The water-supply and demand-impact statement is essentially an executive summary of “publicly available data” concerning Housatonic Water Works, the private water utility servicing that area of Van Deusenville Road. That document concludes that HWW has the excess capacity to supply enough water to satisfy Fulcrum’s demand and that Long Pond, HWW’s reservoir, “has a low vulnerability to drought.

The town’s study on odor impacts released Dec. 31 was less favorable to Fulcrum. It concluded that, among other things, “potentially significant odor impacts are predicted in the area surrounding the proposed Great Barrington facility area under the most unfavorable meteorological conditions.” The report also concluded that, “even if the facility’s operating staff were made aware of a potential odor occurrence, their ability to mitigate it would be limited.”

In another development, planning board member Jonathan Hankin has confirmed that during the continuation of Fulcrum’s site plan review Thursday night, the company proposed to compensate for the recently announced reduction of the total square footage of its greenhouses.

Fulcrum Enterprises principals John Heck, David Ross and attorney Kate McCormick Dec. 30, 2019. at a community outreach meeting. Photo: Terry Cowgill

At a community outreach meeting Dec. 30, Fulcrum representatives announced that they had scaled back the total square footage of the greenhouses to approximately 58,000 square feet from 80,000 square feet — a difference of some 22,000 square feet.

However, in order to make up for the lost space, Fulcrum told the planning board last night it wanted to equip the greenhouses with heat and lighting to extend the length of the growing season.

This came as a surprise to the planning board and to those who have attended previous meetings in which Fulcrum failed to disclose that the greenhouses would be equipped with lights and heat.

Indeed, a summary of the proposal, distributed by Fulcrum attorney Kate McCormick and dubbed an “essential information sheet” at the Dec. 30 community outreach meeting, did not mention heat or lights.

The lot, mostly on the former Nolan gravel mine at 22 Van Deusenville Road, will be home to 13 plastic-covered greenhouses and a 5,000-square-foot metal building housing a self-contained laboratory of a little more than 400 square feet.

The property, located about a mile and a half south of the center of the Housatonic section of town, is zoned industrial. Normally, Great Barrington’s zoning code allows agriculture uses on industrial lots by-right. But the town has a special bylaw (Section 7.18 of the zoning bylaws) requiring a special permit from the selectboard for the cultivation of marijuana. So the town, through its elected representatives, has the final say on whether Fulcrum comes to town.

The proposal, first made public in September, has alarmed residents of the neighborhood, whose concerns range from noise and odors to the effect of the Fulcrum project on property values and the aforementioned impact on the water supply.

About 100 people attended a Sept. 9, 2019, hearing before the Great Barrington Selectboard for Fulcrum Enterprises’ special permit application. Some have left their seats and are lined up at left against the rear wall waiting to speak. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Residents have picketed public hearings and a site visit with signs protesting the project. The public hearing before the selectboard for Fulcrum’s special permit application began with a rowdy session in September and has been continued several times because of delays in obtaining consultant reports. At the first hearing, selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon threatened to have unruly attendees removed.

In anticipation of a large crowd, the Monday, Jan. 13, continuation of the public hearing has been moved to Monument Valley Regional Middle School. The selectboard meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

It is not known precisely when the Fulcrum hearing would begin. It was one of the three public hearings scheduled for that night, according to the agenda.

Now that the company has asked that its special permit be withdrawn without prejudice, the selectboard must vote on whether to honor Fulcrum’s request. If Fulcrum’s request is to be approved, it must be done by a majority vote of the board. If the board declines to do so, then, according to Pruhenski, Fulcrum has the right to request another continuation to a date that must be approved by the board.

On a related matter, the selectboard will also meet Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Town Hall at 6 p.m. to hear from residents, according to a notice, “on whether or not to propose zoning articles that would limit the number of retail marijuana establishments in town, and/or prohibit new retail marijuana establishments in the downtown business district.”

Great Barrington has only one recreational marijuana store open, Theory Wellness, but there are several others in various stages of the state licensing and permitting process.

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.


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