Easthampton City Council considers zoning change for marijuana cultivation

  • James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine, Dec. 13, 2017. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2020 8:47:27 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council will take up whether to change the city’s zoning to allow marijuana cultivation and manufacturing in new buildings in the highway business district at its Wednesday meeting, a question that has sparked considerable controversy and debate.

The ordinance change was first brought to the city planner by Easthampton Advanced Research Park, which is seeking to build a combined retail, manufacturing, research and development and cultivation facility at the Tasty Top Property off of Route 10.

Currently, only retail marijuana businesses are allowed in new buildings in the highway business district.

By a 2-1 vote, the City Council’s Ordinance Committee voted on Nov. 25 to recommend the ordinance change to the council.

“I feel pretty good about the work that we did,” said City Councilor Salem Derby, who chairs the committee. “We mitigated all of the potential impacts that were brought to us as concerns.”

Derby and City Councilor Thomas Peake voted for the ordinance change, while City Councilor Owen Zaret voted against it. The recommendation also covers changes to the ordinance made in the committee.

“This has been a lengthy process,” Peake said.

Peake said that when the ordinance first came before the committee, the committee was not aware of all the constituencies that had an interest in it. These include residential neighbors who have voiced their objections to the project, as well as Apical, a company that is looking to develop a marijuana business across the street from the Tasty Top property at the former Cernak Buick dealership.

The ordinance as recommended, which could come up for a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, includes a 150-foot buffer between residential zone property lines and a marijuana growing/manufacturing facility in a new building.

“That’s about three times bigger than any other residential setback,” Peake said.

It would also require a decommissioning bond for a cultivation/manufacturing facility greater than 5,000 square feet in a new building, which Peake said was a reason behind his yes vote.

“We have the option of tearing down the building and doing something else with that space,” Peake said.

The ordinance would also require cultivation/manufacturing businesses in new buildings to be paired with a retail component in the highway business district, and the 200-foot buffer between marijuana businesses wouldn’t apply to them. As such, both the Apical project and the Tasty Top project would both be able to be approved.

Additionally, cultivation/manufacturing space in new buildings in a project in the highway business district would be limited to 25,000 square feet.

Brendan Leith and his partner Danielle Martineau have been consistent opponents of the ordinance. Their residential property abuts the Tasty Top property.

“Many of our concerns would remain even if it were 1,500 feet away,” Leith said.

They are concerned that a successful Tasty Top facility, or facility of equivalent size, could lead to expansion and would negatively affect smaller marijuana businesses, while a business that failed could leave a building that’s difficult to reuse.

Leith said Easthampton has rolled out marijuana regulation responsibly so far, and that the ordinance change is a step in the wrong direction.

Peake and Derby noted that approving the ordinance won’t approve any individual project, as it will instead modify the zoning.

“It’s voting for a zoning change that effects the whole zone,” Derby said.

Zaret declined to comment on his no vote, but he will have the opportunity to deliver a minority report on the ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, which will be conducted over the videoconferencing application Zoom and will start at 6 p.m.

In order to pass the full council, the ordinance will require six votes, due it being a zoning change.


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