Easthampton eyes zone change for marijuana complex

  • The city of Easthampton is considering a zone change to needed to pave the way for a new marijuana complex at the Tasty Top site along Route 10. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2020 8:31:07 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city is considering amending its bylaws to allow for marijuana cultivation and manufacturing in new buildings in the highway business district, a change being floated at the request of a developer who wants to open such a location at the well-known Tasty Top site along Route 10.

The idea, set to be discussed by the City Council’s Ordinance Committee Wednesday night, is drawing opposition from some residents who live near the site.

“There’s nearly unanimous opposition to what’s being proposed in terms of the zoning amendment,” said Brendan Leith, speaking of people he and his partner Danielle Martineau have talked to.

Leith lives with Martineau, and their house’s lot abuts the Tasty Top property. A company called Easthampton Advanced Research Park wants to construct a complex of buildings for marijuana retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and research and development. However, under the current zoning, only marijuana retail can be allowed in new buildings in the highway business district.

“Currently right now you’re allowed to grow cannabis in highway business,” said councilor Salem Derby, who chairs the Ordinance Committee. “It just has to be in an existing building.”

Derby said it’s not unusual for zoning to be changed to allow for a project to move forward in the city, citing eliminating the need for a drive-thru window at Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack at its first location, also on Route 10, as an example.

“It’s not abnormal to change the zoning based on a request,” said City Planner Jeffrey Bagg.

Leith supports the current rule because of the limitations it places on facilities. He also said that he and Martineau are “very concerned with new buildings becoming vacant.”

Leith described himself and his partner as “pro-development” and said that they would be fine with a grocery store or major retail chain moving in next door, although they would prefer if the property was used as housing or a public park.

He noted that New England Treatment Access’ marijuana grow facility in Franklin is located in an industrial zone, and Leith said that three other facilities that are under construction that he and Martineau visited are also located in industrial areas.

“These are all very, very clearly located in industrial zones, and they’re not near residences,” Leith said.

Derby said that the Ordinance Committee has been working to mitigate the impacts of the potential ordinance change.

“We’re trying to take what the Planning Board gave us and further refine it,” he said.

Bagg said the Planning Board voted to send the ordinance change to the City Council, and the Ordinance Committee has been making changes to it.

Derby said this includes a 150-foot buffer between residential property lines and new marijuana cultivation buildings. Additionally, marijuana manufacturing and cultivation facilities would have to be part of a planned business development with a retail component, meaning that certain requirements, like tree barriers, would apply.

Another change being considered would be to eliminate the existing 200-foot buffer zone between marijuana businesses in the highway business district when marijuana cultivation or manufacturing is involved. The buffer creates an issue because Apical, another marijuana company, is looking to locate a facility in the former Cernak Buick dealership across the street.

Were the buffer to stay in place, only one business could be approved.

“That puts us in a weird position,” Derby said.

The buffer rule was originally conceived more for downtown, Derby said, noting that Easthampton’s limiting the number of retail licenses for marijuana establishments serves to cap the number of shops.

“There’s only six licenses in the city,” he said.

Leith, however, wants the buffer to stay in place.

“That was put there for good reason,” he said.

Should the Ordinance Committee finish with the ordinance on Wednesday, the full council would take up the ordinance on Dec. 2 at a public hearing.

If the ordinance change is passed, it would not ensure that the Tasty Top development would be approved. A special permit would have to be applied for to begin this process.

The proposal from Easthampton Advanced Research Park includes a 5,000-square-foot retail facility, a 5,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and a 22,000-square-foot cultivation and research and development facility.

“I hope that the City Council sees that this is not in Easthampton’s best interest,” said Leith, referring to the interests of its residents. “I hope that they will vote it down.”

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