An aerial view of 195 Hillsdale Road (Route 23) in Egremont, where Emerald River LLC proposes to locate a pot shop. Image courtesy Google Maps

Residents turn up the heat over proposed Egremont pot shop

About a dozen people objected to the project and its effect on a largely residential neighborhood, including traffic and the industrial-scale lighting required by the state Cannabis Control Commission, which licenses and regulates the industry in Massachusetts.

Egremont — The fate of a controversial plan to operate a recreational marijuana store at 195 Hillsdale Road remains uncertain after the select board was given an earful from opponents of the project at a contentious meeting last week.

About 60 people attended a Zoom meeting of the board on Thursday, July 19, held to hear public comment on a proposal by Emerald River LLC to open the store at the former Home interior design shop, across the road from the western intersection of Route 23 and Taconic Lane, about a mile and a half from the New York state line. Click here to listen to or download an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Edge from the town.

The exterior concept for the store. Image courtesy Emerald River

Taconic Lane resident Rich Montone told the board a petition had recently been circulated and signed by 187 town residents who were opposed to the Emerald River proposal.

“We say no because this neighborhood is fully residential in character,” Montone said. “Personally, I chose to live in this part of Egremont because it was away from a town center, within a wildlife corridor.”

The proposal is still in the relatively early stages. As required by law for cannabis applicants, a community outreach meeting hosted by Emerald River president Morriss Partee was held late last month. Click here to view Edge coverage of that meeting, along with the full three-hour video of the proceedings.

Fresh concerns were aired the following week by Thomas McMahon, an architect who lives near the proposed site. Partee could not attend last week’s meeting with the select board because of a previous engagement, his attorneys said.

Ari and Heidi Zorn of Egremont plan to open a CBD and cannabis store in the building that houses the Egremont Spirit Shoppe. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Town resident and attorney Kenneth Gogel raised questions about Partee and his past, noting that the businessman is the former president of Positronic Farms, which was charged last year by the office of Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin with violating state securities laws, though its founder, David Caputo, has denied any wrongdoing.

Taconic Lane resident Helaine Kaplan, who identified herself as a real estate attorney, called attention to the fact that Partee’s proposed store could have a negative impact on a planned cannabis store by longtime town residents Ari and Heidi Zorn in downtown South Egremont. Partee, on the other hand, is a longtime resident of Holyoke.

“I am outraged at the continued engagement with a man of this background,” Kaplan said, adding that she viewed its potential impact on the Zorns a “grave travesty.”

Positronic had an application before the Cannabis Control Commission for a license to grow cannabis. In October, Positronic’s entire board of directors resigned and the company considered filing for bankruptcy as Galvin’s investigation continued.

Partee later became president of the company, he has said, to try to right the ship, a point made in the meeting by Alexandra Glover, a Great Barrington attorney who represents Partee, along with her husband and law partner Peter Puciloski.

Emerald River attorney Alexandra Glover at a planning board hearing in Stockbridge in 2018. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“That Morriss Partee is not an honest man is a very serious and startling allegation,” Glover said. “There was allegedly illegal behavior on the part of one individual. Morriss Partee was a shareholder, as were other people. He stepped into a bad situation to try to fix it.”

Partee and Matthew R. Moriarty were early investors in Positronic. At one point Partee and other investors suspected something was amiss and were not satisfied with the answers they were receiving from Positronic management.

Another concern, raised by Gogel, was that Partee is planning another facility in the Middlesex County town of Maynard. According to the minutes of a June 18 meeting of the Maynard Economic Development Committee (click here to read them), Partee told the committee Emerald River “is scheduled to sign a host agreement on” June 23.

“I can certainly assure you that did not happen,” select board chair George McGurn said. “Since Jan. 6 when Emerald River first came to this select board, I told Partee the host community agreement has issues that still need to be resolved.”

Contacted by The Edge, Partee said on June 18, when he participated in the Maynard meeting, the Egremont Select Board had already instructed its town counsel to draft an HCA with Emerald River and present it to the company’s attorneys for consideration.

“I had every confidence that the attorneys would be able to work out any concerns in the drafted HCA ahead of the Select Board’s June 23 meeting, but unfortunately the details were not ironed out in time for that meeting, as I had hoped they would be,” Partee said.

But most of the objections to the proposal echoed the concerns previously aired. About a dozen people objected to the project and its effect on a largely residential neighborhood, including traffic and the industrial-scale lighting required by the state Cannabis Control Commission, which licenses and regulates the industry in Massachusetts.

Morriss Partee. Photo courtesy Facebook

“We have close to 200 tax-paying citizens of this town and the surrounding area adamantly opposed to this proposal for various reasons,” said Rick Ramsay, who has lived on Taconic Lane since building a home there in 1982. “This is a mix of young families, active professionals and retirees that are very active and enjoying their life in this beautiful area of town.”

Almost all of Egremont is zoned residential. Click here to view the town’s zoning map and here to see the town’s zoning bylaws. Egremont is also a so-called “right-to-farm” community, so agriculture is a by-right use in the town’s sprawling general residential district. But a retail cannabis business wishing to locate in that district would need a special permit from the planning board.

A major bone of contention was the question of whether the town could simply refuse to entertain Emerald River’s special permit application and essentially reject it summarily.

“Why, after all you’re hearing today, can you not dismiss this proposal out of hand?” asked Susan Obel.

McGurn said he is convinced that a refusal to consider the application could expose the town to costly litigation. Questions about the applicant’s finances and suitability for a license would be raised by the Cannabis Control Commission, which will have the final say in issuing a license to Emerald River.

Emerald River also currently has five other license applications before the CCC, and another application for a license in process with the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

As for the board refusing to consider Emerald River’s application for a special permit from the planning board, Glover said: “Procedurally it would be rather extraordinary without any prior notice for this board to simply terminate communication about an HCA that has been negotiated over a long period of time, without any input from Mr. Partee, who wouldn’t be here this morning. I think that would be very unfair.”

Glover urged the board to consult with town counsel Jeremiah Pollard and “let the planning board do their job.” McGurn added that the time for wide-ranging public input is when the planning board schedules a public hearing on the proposal at an as-yet-to-be-determined date.

At a meeting the previous week, select board member Mary Brazie made a motion to suspend consideration of the proposal for Emerald River LLC for that specific location. The motion failed for lack of a second, as both McGurn and fellow board member Lucinda Vermeulen were cool to the idea.

But at this most recent meeting, Brazie made the same motion. This time Vermeulen seconded it, but McGurn suggested the motion be in writing, so the vote was delayed until the board’s July 28 meeting.

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, by roughly 30 points in Great Barrington and by a margin of 537-285 in Egremont. 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.