Leeds residents air concerns about would-be cannabis cultivators

  • Camden Milby at a community meeting at the VFW in Florence on Thursday discusses a proposed marijuana cultivation facility he wants to build with his brother, Brandon Milby, on Kennedy Street in Leeds. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • Brandon Milby, center, at a formal hearing discussing the potential marijuana cultivation facility him and his brother, Camden Milby, plan on building on Kennedy Street in Leeds. Brandon and his brother face Kennedy Street residents in a meeting room at a local VFW in Florence, Mass., Thursday, April 26, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • Douglas Nichols, of Leeds, challenges the building of a marijuana growing house on his street during a formal meeting with the potential marijuana house owners: Camden and Brandon Milby. The meeting took place at a local Florence, Mass., VFW, Thursday, April 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Camden Milby, standing, at a formal hearing discussing the potential marijuana cultivation facility him and his brother, Brandon Milby, plan on building on Kennedy Street in Leeds. Camden and his brother face Kennedy Street residents in a meeting room at a local VFW in Florence, Mass., Thursday, April 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Brandon Milby, center, at a formal hearing discussing the potential marijuana cultivation facility him and his brother, Camden Milby, plan on building on Kennedy Street in Leeds. Brandon and his brother face Kennedy Street residents in a meeting room at a local VFW in Florence, Mass., Thursday, April 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Kris Thomson, of Leeds, participates in a hearing regarding the building of a marijuana cultivation facility on Kennedy Street in Leeds where Thomson resides. The meeting took place at a local Florence, Mass., VFW, Thursday, April 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Brandon Milby, center, at a formal hearing discussing the potential marijuana cultivation facility him and his brother, Camden Milby, plan on building on Kennedy Street in Leeds. Brandon and his brother face Kennedy Street residents in a meeting room at a local VFW in Florence, Mass., Thursday, April 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

For the Gazette
Published: 4/26/2018 11:30:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The owners of a company seeking to start a marijuana cultivation operation in Leeds were peppered with questions from local residents during a community outreach meeting Thursday evening.

Camden and Brandon Milby of Blackwater Farms LLC are in the licensing process for a proposed 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot cultivation facility. The facility, planned for one of two lots at 195 Kennedy Road, would be classified under state law as “tier 1,” the smallest license given to commercial cultivation companies.

Blackwater Farms is currently made up of four individuals, the Milby brothers, a sales associate and an investor named Gabriel Tutunjian. If the facility is built, the company would likely employ six additional full-time employees, Camden Milby said.

The site would made up of five greenhouses, each capable of cultivating up to 90 pounds of commercial grade cannabis. While prices can fluctuate “wildly,” Milby estimates Blackwater Farms could yield about $180,000 per harvest, or just over $3 million per year. The marijuana would be packaged on-site and shipped to wholesale buyers in the recreational pot business.

The company would pay a 3 percent tax to the city, which they estimated to be over $100,000.

The facility would be built about 1,000 feet from Kennedy Road, and would not be visible from the street or any abutting houses, Camden Milby said.

The community outreach meeting is a required step to securing a license under state law, and Thursday’s meeting, held at the VFW in Florence, was attended by about 35 people, most of whom are residents of Kennedy Road.

While the Milby brothers fielded questions on a number of topics, residents were mostly worried about security and property values.

During the presentation, Camden Milby asserted that the facility would likely have a “neutral to positive effect on property values,” drawing laughter, scoffs and a torrent of questions and comments.

“The fact that we don’t want you there means that other people won’t want to be there,” Kennedy Road resident Jerry Mandel said, arguing that property values on the street would decline if the facility was built.

When asked why they did not choose an industrial area for the facility, Brandon Milby said costs and sustainability concerns were primary factors.

“We chose this area because it’s relatively rural. An industrial area would require us to use 100 percent artificial light, which would require significant capital advancement and it would not be very sustainable,” he said. “We want to build a small farm, with low impact on the environment that will hopefully benefit the community as well.”

Related to residents’ concerns about property value, the Milby brothers also answered a series of questions about safety and security.

Citing examples of robbery attempts at marijuana cultivation sites in other states like Colorado, several residents asked how they and their children could feel safe with the facility on their street.

Camden Milby said the site would have security personnel on-site 24-hours-a-day, and that security footage would be shared with Northampton police in real-time. The facility would be completely fenced in, and the fences would be covered in vegetation to block vision into the facility.

In response to a question about whether children playing in the nearby woods would be in danger, Milby clarified that security personnel would not be armed, and would remain inside the fenced in premises at all times.

Milby also noted that facilities that were robbed in other states were forced to keep large sums of cash on the premises because of federal banking restrictions, but that no cash will be kept on site at the Leeds location and no transactions of any kind would occur there.

In response to questions about potential odor, Camden Milby detailed a complex, multistep plan that would prevent the smell of marijuana from circulating around the area.

At several points during the meeting, residents expressed admiration for the level of planning the Milby brothers had done. Yet, no one who spoke at the meeting expressed support for the proposal, while nearly everyone who commented expressed clear opposition to it.

“I really commend the effort these guys are making, but there’s just so many unknowns,” Sharron Vaillette, a resident of Kennedy Road, said. “I wish them the best, but I’m just not comfortable having this in my neighborhood.”

Her husband, Donald Chiulli, agreed. He said he thought the Milbys’ plan was well thought out, but said he thinks it’s not fair for residents of his street to take on a “disproportionate burden” if the facility is built.

“I think putting this in a residential area is crazy,” he said. “I can recognize the overall benefit to the town, but that benefit will not be evenly distributed.”

Camden Milby said he thought the meeting went “better than it could have gone.”

“The crowd wasn’t overtly hostile, so it was better than some that I’ve seen,” he said. “We appreciate everyone coming out.”

Carla Imperial, who owns the other 195 Kennedy Road lot next to proposed facility, with her wife and 10-year-old daughter, said that although she has real concerns about her daughter’s safety and the investment her family made in their home just two years ago, they would try to co-exist with Blackwater Farms if the proposal is approved.

“We’d try to be good neighbors,” she said.

Chiulli said he and other residents will reach out to city officials, who will have the final say before the state Cannabis Control Commission decides whether to officially license the facility.

Camden Milby said he and his brother will meet with Mayor David Narkewicz Friday. He said the company is still in the early stages of the licensing process, but that Narkewicz will ultimately have to decide whether to sign a host community agreement with Blackwater Farms, which would essentially green-light the development of the facility.


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