Hatfield residents assail plans for pot-growing operation

  • Hatfield Town Hall, 2019

  • A sativa strain of marijuana grown by Phill Lamson is shown Oct. 5, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2019 12:11:11 AM

HATFIELD — A large-scale marijuana-growing operation proposed for a residential and agricultural neighborhood in North Hatfield is facing significant opposition from neighbors who live near the proposed site.

Expressing a series of concerns, from a fence topped with barbed wire that would line the perimeter and odors from the thousands of plants, to the possibility of reduced property values for nearby homes and an impact on wildlife, more than 50 residents packed into Town Hall Wednesday to encourage the Planning Board to vote down the project for 55 Depot Road presented by a company called Urban Grown Inc.

“If we wanted to live next to a house of correction, we would have bought our homes near the Hampshire, Franklin or Hampden county houses of correction,” said Elizabeth Beringer of 17 Cronin Hill Road, citing the penitentiary-like appearance of the property as the biggest worry.

Beringer, who said she was speaking for many of the concerned residents, told planners that there are many issues with Urban Grown’s application, from lack of proper notification for a community outreach meeting to filing an application with vague details.

After more than three hours of discussions, the Planning Board voted 5-0 to continue the hearing to Sept. 4 so the applicant can answer numerous questions raised by residents.

The vote came even after board member Paul Dostal said the project likely couldn’t fit into the character of the neighborhood.

“This project has been rejected by the community, this neighborhood,” Dostal said.

And member Michael Paszek said he couldn’t vote for the plan as presented.

But Chairman Robert Wagner and member James Tarr said it was only fair to allow Urban Grown officials to address residents’ concerns. In addition, member Stephanie Slysz said she was nervous that not allowing a quasi-agricultural use on the property might risk it being developed into a subdivision.

Michael Herbert, Urban Grown’s chief operating officer, said the proposal is to buy the 6.8-acre property at 55 Depot Road, at the corner of Cronin Hill Road, and the adjoining fields, now owned by Joseph Wroblewski, and begin growing 10,000 square feet of marijuana crops for wholesale in four greenhouses.

Over time, this would expand to 50,000 square feet of growing, using greenhouses and hoophouses both during the normal growing season, as well as in the winter, when the business would be careful to shield the growing lights from outside view.

Herbert would live on site.

The fence that came under scrutiny from residents, even if shielded by arborvitae, is an element of the security plan mandated by the Cannabis Control Commission. It would supplement the cameras and security system endorsed by Hatfield Police Chief Michael Dekoschak

But residents were concerned that Hatfield not having an around-the-clock police force would make such an enterprise a tempting target, and that no matter how much surveillance is at the site it wouldn’t deter people from trying to enter.

Herbert said the company would use what is known as the Fogco system to neutralize odor from the plants when budding. “If there is an odor, we will control it,” Herbert said.

Neighbors wanted proof this would work and that fans installed inside wouldn’t make significant noise.

Janice Folts of 54 Depot Road said it is an exremely upsetting project.

“I’m truly hoping there is another location that will fit the bill further away from residential places,” Folts said.

Dick Wells of 70 Depot Road said he worries that a wildlife corridor will be compromised by the fence.

But Herbert said Hatfield as a town would benefit from signing a host community agreement, in which a five-year deal with 3 percent of gross sales could mean a minimum of $40,000 in the first year, and $200,000 if the venue is enlarged.

“Those are conservative numbers. We don’t want to overpromise,” Herbert said.

Urban Grown already received a provisional license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, though that was for the Long View Farm on Christian Lane in Whately. That project fell through.

During the meeting, a few people suggested that the company return to Hadley, observing that Urban Grown CEO Stephen Herbert, an agronomy professor at the University of Massachusetts, and farmer and partner Joseph Czajkowski​​, both live there​​​.

But Czajkowski said doing so is not possible. “Hadley’s bylaws don’t allow it, it’s that simple,” Czajkowski said.

In fact, in Hadley, all commercial growing must be done indoors, inside structures that are dark to the sky, and with a total growing area limited in size to 5,000 square feet per farmer. An effort at Hadley’s annual Town Meeting to revise the bylaw and increase the amount that could be grown, proposed by Stephen Herbert, was soundly defeated by voters.

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

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