Residents balk at Housatonic marijuana manufacturing site

Fulcrum has signed a purchase-and-sales agreement to buy 5.78 undeveloped acres from the Nolan family at 22 Van Deusenville Road to construct and operate a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility.

 Great Barrington — At a community input meeting on Tuesday, concerned residents peppered a developer with questions about a proposal to build a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility on Van Deusenville Road.

Alongside his attorney Kate McCormick, developer John Heck answered those questions in the conference room of the Fairfield Inn. Some of the queries were skeptical, even hostile.

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

There were concerns about odor, traffic, security, water usage, exposure to nearby children and how Heck’s company, Fulcrum Enterprises LLC, plans to give back to the community, especially the Housatonic section of town where the facility will be located.

Click here to view the presentation from the community input meeting. See the video below of Heck and McCormick making their most recent presentation to the approximately 25 people in attendance, including a handful of public officials.

Fulcrum has signed a purchase-and-sales agreement to buy 5.78 undeveloped acres from the Nolan family at 22 Van Deusenville Road to construct and operate a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility. The property, which includes a farmhouse, is zoned industrial, so the use is allowed by special permit from the selectboard.

Much of the property surrounding the site is zoned residential, but there is also a lot of industrial activity nearby, including an abutting solar-power array, a stone removal operation and a large junkyard known as the Formel Motor Company.

Selectmen Steve Bannon and Ed Abrahams observed, along with planning board member Jonathan Hankin. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Fulcrum is applying for a Tier 10 cultivator license through the state Cannabis Control Commission. The company proposes to construct 15 enclosed greenhouses totaling approximately 80,000 square feet. The marijuana will be cultivated in soil in raised beds. The manufacturing area and the greenhouses, most of which will be 200-by-30 feet in size, will be built out according to town and state codes.

The manufacturing area will house the facilities to produce cannabis extracts and oils. The company insists that all manufacturing “will strictly adhere to all state and local safety standards” and the activity will require a permit from the Great Barrington Board of Health.

Selectboard member Leigh Davis, right, had questions for Heck and McCormick. At left is James Mercer, treasurer of Housatonic Water Works. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Only Heck was present for the meeting, but his partners attempted to participate via a video conference that was marred by technical difficulties. That did not sit well with Housatonic resident Jim Bailly, who suggested their physical absence was disrespectful to the town.

Heck, who lives in Westchester County, New York, is partnering with his brother Bill. Other Fulcrum principals include Jerad Lauzier and David Ross, both of whom are originally from Salisbury, Connecticut. The two have been active in greenhouse construction and cannabis cultivation.

See video below of the question-and-answer session between residents and John Heck and Kate McCormick:
The two faced several questions about the specifics of their proposal but the questioners were frustrated because details at this point in a land use proposal are typically scarce, as engineering studies are still in the working stage.

McCormick said questions about details would be more appropriate during the public hearing for the special permit and, later, site plan approval from the Planning Board. The purpose of the community meeting is to hear any concerns town residents might want to voice.

“When we get to permit stage, we will have better answers,” McCormick said. “Because the whole process is the engineering piece. The purpose of the community meeting is to identify the concerns of the community. SK Design was hired to flesh out all those [other] issues.”

Housatonic resident Fred Clark did want to know about water usage. Lauzier said he was projecting anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million gallons per growing season. It is not yet clear whether the water would come from a new private well or from the private Housatonic Water Works, which maintains an 8-inch main on Van Deusenville Road.

Housatonic resident Fred Clark asks about water consumption. Photo: Terry Cowgill

HWW owner Jim Mercer said his company has plenty of excess capacity if Fulcrum elects to use HWW’s water service. Bailly noted the site sits over an important aquifer.

McCormick also disclosed that Fulcrum has hired a reputable consulting firm to come up with an odor mitigation plan. Odor has been a common complaint from those who live near cannabis production facilities. Click here to read a special report on the problem in the Cannabis Business Times.

Division Street resident and town finance committee member Michelle Loubert came with a list of concerns, chief among them traffic impacts. But Heck said the operation will not generate much traffic. There will be no large trucks either, he added.

The greenhouses will make full use of the sun and so will not require artificial lighting to grow the marijuana, which will be organically cultivated in soil in raised beds. No plants will be visible, there will be fencing and 24-hour security and video cameras to detect intruders, as mandated by state law. Some in the audience were concerned about the visual impact of the fencing.

Longtime Housatonic resident Crane Morehouse wanted to know what Fulcrum intended to give back to the community. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Fulcrum will make payments to Great Barrington as specified by a host community agreement, which in most cases amounts to 6 percent of sales annually. The company will give hiring and contracting preference to Great Barrington residents and businesses.

Fulcrum will create approximately $300,000 of new payroll and benefits and anticipates an initial full-time staff of six employees, a number that surprised some in attendance, including longtime planning board member Jonathan Hankin, who said six sounded like a lean workforce.

But Ross said the cultivation process is not particularly labor intensive, especially with “advances in technology” and available automation for irrigation. That sparked a passionate response from Housatonic resident Crane Morehouse, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1991.

“What really bothers me is you guys are going to make a shitload of money and … it’s like, what are you going to be giving back to the community?” Morehouse asked. “You’re not really creating much employment … It will look like a freaking prison.”

McCormick said there are a variety of ways in which Great Barrington and Housatonic will benefit: sales taxes, community impact fees and property taxes.

Housatonic resident Jim Bailly was unhappy that some Fulcrum principles did not appear in person at the forum. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“How much are you going to give back to Housatonic because your property taxes are going to town hall in Great Barrington and god knows what happens when it gets over there,” Morehouse said.

“Can I answer that?” Selectman Ed Abrahams raised his voice. “Once he gives you the number, multiply it by 6 percent.”

“This is not the Ed Abrahams show today,” Bailly snarled.

McCormick said the community host agreement will be worked out with the selectboard in a public meeting and that discussions about the special permit will begin within the next month or two. A decision on whether to spend some of the revenues in Housatonic would be a political decision for the selectboard to make.

Great Barrington is the site of Berkshire County’s first recreational cannabis store, Theory Wellness, with four others in the permitting stage. The town has gained a reputation as cannabis-friendly, which Heck said is one of the reasons his company chose Great Barrington. The town’s cannabis reputation has even attracted the attention of Crane’s New York Business, which published a story on the subject yesterday.