NORTHAMPTON — Two brothers looking to open a marijuana growing facility on Kennedy Road in Leeds are going back to the drawing board after the mayor announced on Friday that their plans did not meet zoning regulations.
Camden and Brandon Milby, of Blackwater Farms LLC, met with Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and members of the Office of Planning & Sustainability on Friday to discuss the project. The brothers were informed they could not proceed as planned. Now, they are working with an engineer to draft a new plan to present to the Planning Board next week.
“We will move forward if we can work something out with the Planning Board,” Camden Milby said.
Under recently adopted city zoning regulations governing the cultivation and manufacturing of commercial marijuana, facilities can only operate in office industrial or general industrial zoning districts. Because the proposed site is in a water supply protection district, no industrial or commercial establishments are allowed.
Outdoor agriculture, however, is allowed in water supply protection districts, and the brothers may try to alter their plans to meet those zoning specifications.
“They do allow an outdoor grow, but they don’t actually allow any of the facilities we need in order to do an outdoor grow,” Camden Milby said.
He said they are considering building temporary greenhouses that do not qualify as permanent structures under city zoning bylaws. Other options include finding a new location, working to amend the city’s zoning bylaws or receiving a special permit.
“I’m not even sure it could be modified to fit within (the regulations),” Narkewicz said.
The Milbys held a community outreach meeting Thursday to field questions from potential neighbors, per the Cannabis Control Commission’s licensure requirement, and were met with some opposition.
“My biggest disappointment is that we didn’t have this conversation before they went ahead and had a neighborhood meeting,” Narkewicz said.
Narkewicz said that part of the frustration stems from the disconnect between local governments and the Cannabis Control Commission’s licensing process.
The original plan for 195 Kennedy Road called for a 10,000- to 20,000-square-foot cultivation facility, 5,000 square feet of which would be dedicated to growing in five greenhouses each capable of cultivating up to 90 pounds of cannabis per harvest.
Neighbors to the site were primarily concerned with security, decreased property values and the smell, while the brothers tried to explain how their plans addressed those concerns. The facility would be staffed 24 hours a day with security footage shared with the Northampton police in real time.
“We don’t believe that will be an issue,” Camden Milby said. “We’ve looked up all the evidence we could and so far there have only been two studies… both of them found being near a marijuana facility increased property values.”
Because outdoor growing areas are not allowed to use supplemental light, the brothers would be limited to growing seasonally during the warmer months. Without outdoor lights or heating, the facility would use minimal energy, equivalent to that of a regular home, den said. They would hire six full-time employees with full benefits.
According to the mayor, several people have expressed interest in opening marijuana-related businesses in the city, and city officials have advised them of the zoning regulations.
“In this case we didn’t really hear from these folks other than we received a legal notice,” Narkewicz said.
Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the brothers were notified via email by Carolyn Misch, the city’s senior land use planner, that the site was not properly zoned for their purposes. However, that plan was tailored to a different town’s bylaws, and sent to the Planning Board by mistake, Milby said.
Prior to the announcement, the brothers reached out and met with the mayor to share their intent to open a growing facility, but did not specify a location at the time, according to Narkewicz.
“I am very supportive of the state’s emerging cannabis industry and Northampton has enacted progressive zoning that treats marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, and retail like all similar uses,” Narkewicz wrote in a Facebook post on Friday morning. “I will also encourage them to locate an appropriately zoned site in Northampton for what appears to be an otherwise thoughtful and carefully planned business.”