Amherst church objecting to planned cannabis grow nearby

  • A marijuana leaf AP FILE PHOTO/RICHARD VOGEL

Staff Writer
Published: 3/31/2021 1:25:55 PM

AMHERST — Members of an Amherst church are arguing that a future marijuana cultivation business, under construction on Belchertown Road, will compromise safety in the neighborhood and represents an attack on their religious values.

Bing Liang, a deacon at the Amherst Chinese Christian Church who also teaches at the Isenberg School at the University of Massachusetts, said Tuesday that with the growing facility just 220 feet away from the church property, the project should be reevaluated.

“This will have an impact on our religious values and public safety,” Liang said.

But whether the concerns about Riverside Organics LLC, a micro-cannabis operation that intends to grow marijuana plants inside an 1,800-square-foot greenhouse at 555 Belchertown Road, would derail the project is uncertain.

In 2019, the company received Planning Board site plan approval to cultivate marijuana plants on the property of a former radio station behind Amherst Winery.

Still, with the state Cannabis Control Commission requiring a second community outreach meeting before issuing the cultivator a license, representatives from the church at 611 Belchertown Road are hoping to have their voices heard. That meeting will be in person Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Hadley.

Jonathan Gurfein of Florence, who owns Riverside Organics, said the meeting is a formality, as he previously had to postpone his application to the Cannabis Control Commission due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no change in business mode of micro-cannabis production only,” Gurfein said of the project.

He adds that he will only be growing marijuana, and not dispensing or selling any product. Gurfein said he believes that as long as the town has approved his project, the state won’t interfere.

Previously, Riverside signed a host community agreement with Amherst calling for a 3% community impact fee on gross revenues and a $5,000 annual donation to education and prevention programs.

In addition to what Liang said is a violation of the First Amendment rights of church members, the church campus is a place where children play, and numerous pedestrians walk to bus stops on nearby Hall Drive and next to the church.

“Their facility may not be compatible with the character of the local neighborhood,” Liang said.

He claims that church members and other neighbors had not been previously informed about the project, though town records indicate notices were sent to all abutters.

Liang said he also worries about the impact a legal marijuana site may have on the international students who attend services at the church, as Riverside Organics may lead them to believe that marijuana is a legal substance across the country.

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