Company’s plans for 1st medical marijuana-growing facility in Northampton get key permits

  • In this March 25, 2018 file photo, a visitor examines a marijuana sample at the New England Cannabis Convention in Boston. Three New England states legalized recreational marijuana, but there is still no place to buy pot legally in the region. AP Photo/Steven Senne

@BeraDunau
Published: 8/12/2018 11:12:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The old Willard gravel pit is on its way to becoming the site of the city’s first medical marijuana growing and processing facility, which would supply greenhouse-grown cannabis to a dispensary operated by the same company on Pleasant Street downtown.

“We are extremely optimistic about our future in Northampton,” said Neil Phelan, a co-founder of Just Healthy LLC, a Boston company that is in the process of relocating to Northampton.

The facility is set to employ 40 people once operational.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday gave its approval to convert the 1010 Ryan Road location from a nonconforming gravel pit to a nonconforming manufacturing site for marijuana production. The Planning Board, meanwhile, voted to approve Just Healthy’s site plan for the facility the same day, which would contain a large greenhouse for growing medical marijuana. Marijuana processing is also set to take place on-site.

The final legal hurdle for Just Healthy is to receive a conservation permit from the Conservation Commission.

“We’re pretty confident,” said Phelan, who noted the ZBA and Planning Board gave their approvals without any dissenting votes.

The Ryan Road property was formerly the site of a gravel pit operated by Bill Willard Inc. Phelan said the company hopes to close on a deal to buy the property by September.

Phelan said that Just Healthy anticipates starting construction on the 174,000-square-foot facility before winter, with medical marijuana products available by next summer.

Just Healthy is set to sell the medical marijuana it will grow in Florence from a facility it will lease at 58 Pleasant St., across the street from Sylvester’s Restaurant. Phelan said that Just Healthy is looking to lease the facility as soon as possible to begin remodeling and reconstructing the site, and that it will be used for office space until marijuana product is available.

Prior to last week’s meetings with city boards, Just Healthy held public meetings in May and August to get input from neighbors and the public. It also hosted a meeting on the site this month for those who expressed interest in community access to the city’s trail system through the property.

Just Healthy has plans to develop and maintain a series of trails on its 50-acre property. The public would have deeded public access to those trails, which would connect to an adjoining 100-acre portion of conservation land the city has plans to purchase from Bill Willard Inc.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to have this stewardship,” Phelan said, of maintaining the trails.

Security, odor and water use were all subjects that were raised by the public in the Planning Board’s public comment period on the plan.

Some of the lengthiest public comment came from Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge, who has been working extensively with Just Healthy throughout its approval process. She noted that a number of residents in her ward, where the facility would be located, are opposed to the project on principal because of opposition to marijuana.

Nevertheless, she expressed support for it, both because it would enable the city to purchase a large portion of the Bill Willard property as conservation land and because of the tax revenue it promises to generate. “This business will generate a significant tax revenue to the city of Northampton,” LaBarge said.

Phelan, who will soon move to Northampton, said that working with LaBarge has been very helpful to the project. “It’s been a pleasure,” he said, adding that LaBarge cares deeply about her constituents.

 Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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