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Deerfield approves pot cultivator’s special permit

  • The greenhouse at Pioneer Gardens at 198 Mill Village Road in Deerfield.  STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The greenhouse at Pioneer Gardens at 198 Mill Village Road in Deerfield.  STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2019 3:55:49 PM

DEERFIELD — Marijuana cultivation in Deerfield is one step closer to becoming a reality after the town’s Select Board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a special permit for Suns Mass Inc. to cultivate medical pot at 198 Mill Village Road, land currently owned by Pioneer Gardens.

Suns Mass, an affiliate of the Arizona cannabis company Harvest Inc., has proposed renovating and converting an existing 2.6-acre greenhouse and constructing a new 33,000-square-foot building for harvesting, drying and shipping. It plans to sign a 15-year lease with Pioneer Gardens owners Arjen Vriend and Jaap Molenaar, who sell perennial starter plants to wholesale nurseries.

The plan also includes reconstruction of a parking lot, new utility connections, stormwater management and landscaping.

Representatives for Sun Mass on Wednesday included Northampton attorney Richard M. Evans, who delivered a presentation to the board and the public, as well as consultant Ezra Parzybok, also of Northampton. 

Evans said the expectation is for Suns Mass to take over the existing 114,000-square-foot greenhouse on the property.

“Pioneer Gardens hopes to remain alive and well in Deerfield,” he said, adding that the business is interested in moving elsewhere in Deerfield. Vriend previously said he and Molenaar want to expand their company’s ornamental plant nursery and open field production.

The planned one-story, 33,000-square-foot processing building would sit next to the greenhouse and not be visible from the road. It would be 18 feet high, at most, Evans said. As required by law, there will be 500-foot buffer zones from any place where children congregate, Evans said.

Pioneer Gardens held an open house from 10 to 11 a.m. on Nov. 10, 2018. Vriend has said he and Molenaar were first approached by marijuana companies after state voters opted six years ago to legalize medical marijuana.

Evans explained truck traffic would decrease from its current rate, because a marijuana operation does not have the same requirements for transportation that perennials require.

“There’s less stuff to carry,” Evans said.

He also said the neighborhood’s character would not be affected, and that there would be no drain on town services. Rather, he said Suns Mass would bring benefits to Deerfield. The facility would employ 30 to 50 people and, under the community host agreement, the town would receive from Suns Mass a one-time payment of $25,000, as well as 2 percent of gross wholesale receipts every year for five years. The town has the right to approve the site’s manager and a clause in the host agreement forbids the business owner from challenging the taxation rate.

“We see that in a lot of host agreements,” Evans said.

Resident Ralph “Rocky” Foley asked if the facility would have backup generators and was assured it would.

Molenaar told the Select Board this transaction would put Pioneers Gardens in a very strong financial position. He said that Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 wreaked havoc on his business, leaving parts of the property under 7-½ feet of water.

ToroVerde Massachusetts Corporation III, another Harvest Inc. affiliate represented by Evans, aims to open a marijuana dispensary at 424 State Road (Routes 5 and 10), which houses Sturbridge Yankee Pedlar.

The idea is for ToroVerde to get its marijuana from the proposed facility at Pioneer Gardens.

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