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Industrial-scale weed facility stirs the pot in New Marlborough

The proposal by Oasis Campus LLC to build a sprawling cannabis production facility on 106 acres near Lake Buel and abutting the Sandisfield State Forest has roiled the waters of this normally quiet town.

New Marlborough — If it ever comes to fruition, it will easily be the biggest marijuana production facility in Berkshire County and one of the larger such facilities in the state.

That’s what’s been proposed for the tiny town of New Marlborough, where there are few businesses and many lonely country roads, and open spaces and older homes are the order of the day.

But the proposal by Oasis Campus LLC to build a sprawling cannabis production facility on 106 acres near Lake Buel and abutting the Sandisfield State Forest has roiled the waters of this normally quiet town.

Click here to read the brief Oasis proposal, which has inspired such opposition that more than 250 residents have banded together to sign a petition to force a vote at a special town meeting to enact a temporary moratorium on cannabis facilities until the town can draw up a set of zoning bylaws to regulate them.

Two meetings will be held on the topic. The New Marlborough Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Monday to approve a special town meeting on Friday, April 13, to consider the moratorium. Click here to view the timeline leading up to April 13 and see the video below of the selectmen discussing and approving it on March 5:

And next week, on Monday, March 12, at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, the selectmen will hold a special permit hearing and are likely to approve or reject the Oasis application at that time. So the proposed moratorium will not affect the Oasis application, which is already under review and will be acted upon before any moratorium can be approved by voters.

Douglas Newman, whose property abuts the proposed site, an abandoned gravel pit at 1270 Hartsville New Marlborough Road (routes 57 and 183), is one of the opponents, along with Rebecca Schreiber, who organized the petition for the temporary moratorium. The petitioners gathered more than 260 signatures in three days during the President’s Day weekend.

Newman is one of four abutters who have been active in opposing the project. A fifth, Mark Carson, is a member of the New Marlborough Planning Board and has recused himself from involvement in the process.

The planning board would negotiate and approve a site plan if indeed the selectmen, who are acting as the permitting authority, approve the special permit request. Click here to view Oasis’ initial site plan. Oasis CEO Joshua Seitz says his plan is to buy the property if the special permit is approved and then rent it to a cannabis production company.

“This proposal is to put in a light industrial manufacturing complex that will be over 100,000 square feet,” Newman said in an interview. “It’s larger than the average Walmart.”

Newman said the 100-acre-plus site, which is essentially an abandoned gravel pit currently owned by O’Connor Brothers of Canaan, Connecticut, is nonetheless “surrounded by residential homes.”

A commercial greenhouse and ventilation system similar to the one proposed by Oasis Campus LLC. Image courtesy Oasis Campus LLC

Newman emphasized that he is not opposed to the cultivation of cannabis and that he is not reacting to the proposal in NIMBY fashion because he would be opposing it any place in town where it wouldn’t be a good fit.

In addition, Newman is concerned about the high water usage of the hydroponics operation on the proposed facility and its impact on a fragile ecosystem that includes spotted salamanders.

“I don’t see how this can be beneficial for the neighborhood,” Newman said. “It’s not appropriate.”

Andrea Taylor, a part-time resident who, with her husband Mike, has owned a weekend home for four years near the site, told The Edge the topic has “been a rallying point that’s generated an enormous amount of online discussion,” most notably on the invitation-only Maggie’s List, a Google group started by town resident Debra Herman.

Taylor said the town of New Marlborough and its people, both of which she described as “very welcoming,” have a long history of valuing their connection to the land. She has had her well tested and it came up remarkably pure. And the nighttime sky is so void of extraneous light that one can see thousands of stars when there is no cloud cover. She wonders what the sky will look like after the cannabis production company builds the state-mandated security systems required of all such facilities.

“I think the people of New Marlborough very much value their connection to the land and so, while there are plenty of people who have concerns about how the town can continue to function well financially, I still feel the overall sense is that people want to keep an environment that helps us stay close,” Taylor said in an interview. “This type of manufacturing facility doesn’t mesh with that underlying love of the land.”

Taylor added that there are too many questions raised by the proposal and that “the application is so sparse in detail that I don’t see how the town in good conscience could approve it.”

New Marlborough resident Daniel Doern has written an analysis of the Oasis application. Click here to read it. Doern has argued that the selectmen are obligated by the town’s protective zoning bylaws and by its open space and recreation plan to reject the special permit application in its current form.

The New Marlborough Board of Selectmen debate Monday about a timeline on a public hearing and special town meeting to consider a temporary moratorium on cannabis facilities. From left, Tara White, Nat Yohalem and Michele Shalaby. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Doern, an architect by training, noted that the town only has one zoning district, called “Town Residential,” and that the “only uses permitted by right are agriculture, single-family residences, religious or educational facilities (subject to restrictions), municipal buildings, and very few small scale commercial uses.”

“Nothing like this [proposal] was anticipated in the bylaws or the open space plan,” Doern said in an interview. “There’s a process for that; it’s called the special permit.”

Like Newman, Doern, who lives on Clayton Mill River Road, said he is not philosophically or culturally opposed to the cultivation and production of cannabis. But like Taylor, he said he found the Oasis application woefully lacking in detail when it was presented at a contentious Feb. 28 planning board meeting. The proposal as shown by Seitz and his team in a PowerPoint presentation can be viewed by clicking here. And click here to see planning board Chairman Peter Tiso’s list of concerns about the project after listening to Seitz’s presentation.

In a letter to the editor of the Edge, New Marlborough resident Lucinda Shmulsky likened the proposal to putting “lipstick on a pig.”

“From a developer’s point of view, I think he did a lousy job,” said Doern, who spent the bulk of his career working in real estate in New York. “And it was kind of embarrassing when he made this presentation.”

Here’s the thumbnails of what we know about the proposal at this point:

  • Four greenhouses of 13,000 square feet each for growing the product.
  • Four additional buildings related to manufacture and security, including a testing laboratory and a commercial kitchen to produce edibles and concentrates.
  • Future plans could include a lodging facility and a solar-power field, though Oasis officials now say they have no plans to do so.

What is not known is how the facility would benefit the town. For the answer to that question, The Edge turned to Oasis attorney Peter Puciloski.

Attorney Peter Puciloski.

The production company would hire workers. Puciloski said data from the state of Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, indicate seven new full-time jobs per 10,000 square feet of grow space, which in the Oasis proposal totals a little more than 50,000 square feet.

“That’s 35 jobs,” Puciloski said, adding that there would be many more hires related to security and administration, though he could not yet say with any certainty how many. All employees would have to undergo a background or criminal record check (CORI).

Puciloski said he was confident that the property would become the largest taxpayer in town. The market value of the facility after it’s completed is estimated to be between $8 million and $9 million, he said. Puciloski’s assertion about Oasis potentially being the largest taxpayer in town would appear to be true. On the town’s 2014 grand list of taxable property, the highest assessed property is Haymeadow Farm on Norfolk Road at more than $4.6 million in combined real estate and personal property value.

New Marlborough’s current tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $10.45. That means, if the Oasis proposal is approved, the town could see between $83,600 and $94,050 in real estate taxes per year. In addition, the equipment associated with the business would be subject to the town’s personal property tax.

Finally, the newly created state Cannabis Control Commission allows municipalities to impose a community impact fee on cannabis manufacturers that “must be reasonably related to costs imposed upon the municipality and is capped to no more than 3 percent of the gross sales of the establishment or be effective for longer than five years.”

The state further says “the cost imposed by the operation of a marijuana establishment on a municipality must be documented and considered a public record.” Puciloski declined to venture a guess on how much revenue the town could see from such a fee, if it chose to negotiate it, but it would no doubt be considerable.

Attorney Jeremia Pollard.

Puciloski addressed other questions he has received from the town, including from town counsel Jeremia Pollard. Click here to see Puciloski’s Feb. 16 response to Pollard’s query.

As for the lack of specificity in the Oasis proposal, Puciloski attributed it to the state Cannabis Control Commission, which was formed last year to implement the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana. The commission only recently approved regulations on licensing and implementation of the adult-use cannabis industry in Massachusetts.

“One of the problems with details at this point is we have to do whatever the regulations require,” Puciloski said.

If approved, the Oasis campus would be the largest such cannabis production facility in Berkshire County. However, Puciloski said he knows of other potential proposals that are larger, though he did not yet want to name them.

Berkshire Roots, a medical marijuana dispensary and grower in Pittsfield, is scheduled to open this month and, at 26,000 square feet, touts itself as “the largest grower of cannabis in the Berkshires.” Berkshire Roots will also be the first licensed cultivator in the county.

A rendering of a 1 million-square-foot cannabis center under construction in Freetown near New Bedford. Image courtesy Campanelli Construction

The largest such facility in Massachusetts will also be the largest one in the nation. A Denver-based medical marijuana facility developer is building a 1 million-square-foot cannabis center in Freetown near New Bedford.

Interestingly, Seitz presented a proposal to the selectmen last April to purchase and develop the former Kolburne School property as a medical marijuana facility. The property was eventually acquired by Tom Brazie for use as a farm and agricultural education center.

To recap: a special town meeting will be held to consider the temporary moratorium on cannabis facilities Friday, April 13. The special meeting of the selectmen to consider the Oasis special permit will be held Monday, March 12, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.


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