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Hearing for Pot Cultivation on Pittsfield Peck's Road Continued
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
06:15AM / Saturday, August 31, 2019
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals has continued a hearing in regard to a proposed outdoor marijuana cultivation operation on Peck's Road. 
 
After some discussion last week, the ZBA decided not to act on Northeast Cultivation's request for a special permit in order to seek information on possible marijuana odor and what recourse residents have if the odor becomes a problem.
 
"I am not happy about a decision where we put the onus on the neighborhood to go through the appeal process," board member John Fitzgerald said. "We are here to protect the neighborhood and allow the farmers to do what they want but this is new. This is not like pigs; this is not like corn."
 
Northeast LLC most recently received approval from the Community Development Board on the proposed 6.7 parcel at 997 Peck's Road, of which 100,000 square feet will be used for cultivation. 
 
Mark Scoco, with SK Design Group, said the area is zoned residential and agricultural. The plot is currently part of a farm owned by Bill Mangiardi.
 
"Us farmers have been spending $10 to make $7. It just does not work so we try harder and we try another crop," Mangiardi said. "This is the first crop farmers can really make a profit on and they should not be cut out of this."
 
Chairman Albert Ingegni read through the application and noted it met the city's requirements. It was far enough away from schools and day care centers, had the proper frontage, and was a compatible use with the existing use -- among others. It also satisfied the city's parking ordinance. 
 
The board did have some questions about lighting and Scoco said lights would be spread out around the perimeter fence on 15-foot-high poles. They would be no cast lighting fixtures that would be on motion sensors. When the growing season was over they would be turned off. 
 
Peck's Road resident Caitlin Pemble was firstly concerned about the actual zoning. She noted the growing of marijuana was not identified as agricultural use and felt as though the drying and processing of the product also did not jive with the use.
 
"I would offer that seems to be a very generous interpretation," she said.
 
Nate Joyner, permitting coordinator with the city's Community Development Office, said the cultivation was the principal use while storage and processing were accessory uses. Ingegni agreed this was consistent with the existing use and added that marijuana cultivation is not allowed by right through agricultural zoning but through a permit process -- which was the purpose of the meeting.
 
The biggest point of contention was the possible odor that Pemble felt would disrupt the neighborhood.
 
"This will make the outdoors unbearable for eight weeks during the growing season," she said.
 
Neighbor James Brennan agreed and was worried about health impacts -- specifically for asthmatics. 
 
"The smell is a big issue and it will affect property values," he said. "I am a health-care professional and I am concerned about the toxic smell and asthma trigger."
 
The question about noxious odors from the plants had been raised at a public hearing in Williamstown earlier this year. The proposal for the 5-acre plantation was withdrawn two months later. 
 
Questions became more specific about security measures, lighting, and operations on the farm but Ingegni noted these items really fall under the state Cannabis Control Commission.
 
"We are not going to dive into the weeds ... the issues brought up here are legitimate but this goes back to the Cannabis Control Commission," he said. "We really only have an impact on land use, not these other issues."
 
Board members asked about the plants' odor, which seemed to be the sticking point for most residents. 
 
Joyner said the state does have language around noxious smells that can disrupt neighborhoods but this language is not very extensive. 
 
Because of the subjective matter of smell, he said, it is hard to make determinations or enforce.
 
Fitzgerald asked what recourse residents have if the smell became unbearable. He compared the situation to chickens: people can file a complaint with the Board of Health if a neighbor's livestock gets out of hand.
 
Ingegni said the chickens would be a Board of Health issue and this sort of enforcement is really out of the Zoning Board of Appeal's hands. If Northeast violated the permit or other zoning rule, then the board would step in.
 
He added that there is always the board's normal appeal period if the neighbors are not happy with the decision.
 
With uncertainty still among the board members, the board voted to hold off until next month to gather more information on marijuana odor and what the neighbors can do.
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