Hearing on Hatfield pot farm proposal continues

  • FILE - In this May 5, 2015 photo, marijuana plants grow at a Minnesota Medical Solutions greenhouse in Otsego, Minn. Advocates for legalizing marijuana have long argued it would strike a blow for social justice after a decades-long drug war that disproportionately targeted minority and poor communities. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, File) Glen Stubbe

Staff Writer
Thursday, September 05, 2019

HATFIELD — Even with revised plans aimed at addressing odor from the plants and improving the appearance of perimeter fencing, planners put off a decision Wednesday on whether a large-scale marijuana-growing operation off Depot Road should be permitted.

With a report from the Berkshire Design Group of Northampton identifying several concerns in the plans submitted by Urban Grown Inc. for use of the 6.8-acre site at 55 Depot Road owned by Joseph Wroblewski — including that the company failed to take into account that the property is in the flood plain overlay zone — the board voted 3-2 to continue the hearing to Oct. 1.

“There are deficiencies in the application right now. I would like to have them address those,” Planning Board Chairman Robert Wagner said.

Wagner was joined by members Stephanie Slysz and James Tarr in voting to continue the hearing.

Before about 75 residents in the Smith Academy gymnasium, many of them residents of nearby Depot and Cronin Hill roads who are opposed to the project, Urban Grown Chief Executive Officer Stephen Herbert of Hadley tried to assuage worries raised at the initial hearing in June.

A fence topped with barbed wire, which some residents complained gave the site a penitentiary-like appearance, has been removed.

“We heard the concern about it looking like a jail,” Herbert said. “We didn’t want that to be the case so we changed it to be a wood-panel fence.”

A Fogco system that sprays a chemical mist to neutralize cannabis odor will also be used inside the greenhouses and hoophouses on site, Herbert said.

“We can control the odors so they are not a problem in the neighborhood,” Herbert said.

The marijuana would be sold to medical and recreational dispensaries in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Despite these efforts, board member Michael Paszek said it is obvious residents will not support the project and that it was not worth spending more time on the matter. “We need to call the question and move along,” Paszek said.

Board member Paul Dostal asked if any Hatfield resident in the audience would speak in favor of the project and was met with silence.

“I rest my case,” Dostal said, at which many applauded.

Wagner said Urban Grown should have been aware that it would need a plan for flood plain management, since the company is not considered agricultural and thus is not exempt from these regulations. It also should not have designed parking so vehicles have to back into a road, which is not allowed.

“These shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because they’re in our bylaw,” Wagner said.

Town attorney Thomas Mullen explained that the wise course of action was to continue the hearing, and if the planners deny the site plans and special permits, it will be with solid reasoning.

“The Planning Board is aware of the stakes, aware of the process, and trying to make a decision that is unimpeachable, irreversible,” Mullen said.

Herbert said some community concerns, such as that 19 greenhouses would be going up on the property immediately, are not true.

“There’s no way we will start with 19 greenhouses — that would be overwhelming for us, as well,” Herbert said.

Herbert said the plan is to begin with four greenhouses and 10,000 square feet of growing area.

Last month, the company signed a host community agreement with the Select Board in which it would provide the town 3 percent of gross sales each year for the first five years. That agreement is nullified if no final license is issued, which is contingent on the Planning Board approval.

The 10,000 square feet of marijuana plants would produce about $45,000 in revenue for the town, Herbert said. “The more we can grow it, the more the town can make,” Herbert said.

Because the hearing is continuing, Wagner didn’t allow public comment, which Petrus Van Geel of 9 Cronin Hill Road worried meant that townspeople are being silenced.

Van Geel added that there have been substantial changes to the plans and no reason for residents to support the enterprise. “They haven’t moved off square one, as far as I’m concerned,” Van Geel 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, but the license will be transferred to the Hatfield property.

Over time, the plan is to expand to 50,000 square feet of growing, using greenhouses and hoophouses, 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’s son, Chief Operating Officer Michael Herbert, would live on site.

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