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Setbacks proposed in Hatfield for growing cannabis near residences

  • Cannabis plants are seen in a greenhouse in Ontario, Canada BLOOMBERG PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2020 3:39:53 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 3:39:43 PM

HATFIELD — A bylaw revision that would place restrictions on how close to neighboring residences marijuana crops can be grown, either outdoors or in greenhouses, is being developed by the Planning Board.

The board will hold a hearing March 4 at 7 p.m. at the library at Smith Academy on the zoning amendment, which would prohibit cannabis grown for medical or adult-use purposes “within 500 feet of any preexisting residential use not located on the same lot with the marijuana establishment” and within 300 feet of preexisting residential uses in the industrial, light industrial and commercial districts. Distances would be measured in straight lines from neighboring residential buildings to security fencing associated with the marijuana operation.

Board Chairman Robert Wagner said the revision to the bylaw comes in response to last year’s requests for a special permit and site plan approval from Urban Grown Inc., a company that hoped to use a 6.8-acre site at 55 Depot Road to grow cannabis to supply medical and recreational dispensaries in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Wagner said that application, and the concerns raised by Depot and Cronin Hill residents about the project, brought to light that some farms are growing marijuana in residential neighborhoods, which may be problematic if it’s close to homes. Common objections to marijuana cultivation include odor and issues surrounding security measures. The proposed bylaw would not affect indoor growing operations. 

Even though cannabis production for recreational and medical use is not classified as an agricultural activity under state law, Wagner said when the zoning bylaw was originally prepared, the board’s intention was to not limit opportunities for farmers in Hatfield to have a crop to supplement their other activities, similar to growing tobacco. 

“At the time, we decided wouldn’t have setbacks specific to marijuana cultivation,” Wagner said.

Wagner said if the bylaw had been on the books, no special permit request and site plans could have been sought for use of the Depot Road site.

“That site would not have been eligible for marijuana cultivation,” Wagner said. 

Once Urban Grown dropped it original plans, the site was instead used to grow high-CBD hemp, which requires no local approvals and only a permit from the state.

The bylaw changes wouldn’t affect the indoor grow category, which is allowed in business, industrial and light industrial zones. It also doesn’t prohibit a farmer or an employee from living at a dwelling on site that is next to the crops. 

Wagner said Town Meeting would need to give the proposed changes two-thirds approval to be adopted. 

“We feel this is an appropriate proposal to recommend to Town Meeting,” Wagner said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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