Hearing on proposed expansion for cannabis cultivation facility wraps up

  • Valerio Romano, attorney for Uma Cultivation, speaks to Athol's Board of Planning Aand Community Development in support of Uma's request to expand on the original design of the building that will house the company's marijuana cultivation canopy, offices and other amenities. Uma first proposed a build of 10,000 square feet but now wants to double that figure. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Valerio Romano, attorney for Uma Cultivation, speaks to Athol's Board of Planning and Community Development in support of Uma's request to double the size of the building that will house the company's marijuana cultivation canopy, offices and other amenities. Listening are board Chair David Small (left) and members Jacqueline Doherty and Aimee Hanson. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • Eric Hayes, engineer for Uma Cultivation, provides details of Uma's request to enlarge the building it had originally wanted to construct for marijuana cultivation at 706 Petersham Road. Hayes appeared at the Jan. 5 meeting of Athol's Board of Planning and Communitiy Development. Staff photo/Greg Vine

  • David Small, Chair of Athol's Board of Planning and Community Development, listens at a meeting Jan. 5, about Uma Cultivation's request to expand on the original design of its building. Staff photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 1/10/2022 3:43:14 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 3:42:22 PM

ATHOL — Anything can change over the course of a month, but most members of the Board of Planning and Community Development (BPCD) currently appear disposed to approve an amendment to the site plan the board originally approved for Uma Cultivation. A public hearing on Uma’s proposal to double the size of the building first approved by the BPCD concluded at the board’s meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 5. The cultivation operation is located at 706 Petersham Road.

“At the last meeting,” company attorney Valerio Romano told the board, “the controversial issue was the fact that tree cutting had begun.”

He said questions had been raised as to whether Uma had felled a number of trees to allow for the expansion of the originally proposed building in violation of conditions set forth in the special permit granted by the board.

“Uma had not finished working with our engineers and Tighe & Bond to satisfy conditions (of the permit),” said Romano. “Since then, we have in fact satisfied those. I believe you have a report from Tighe & Bond that we are in compliance with that section, no matter how we read it.”

Tighe & Bond is the consultant employed by the board to review site plans and review questions of compliance with the special permit.

“With that,” Romano concluded, “I want to turn it over to the board for their direction as to how to proceed.”

At a previous installment of the public hearing, board member Rick Hayden had suggested that Uma agree to limit the canopy — or area — proposed for marijuana cultivation to the size previously agreed upon, even though the building to be constructed would be twice as large as first proposed.

Hayden suggested that Uma stipulate that only 6,700 square feet of its original 10,000-square-foot building will be used for cultivation. The remainder of the new structure would be used for office space, storage, and other purposes. Romano at that time agreed to the condition.

“We’re not trying to circumvent anything,” said Romano. “We’re just trying to do a more efficient initial construction, period. We’re not going to grow any more than we could have in the original 10,000 square foot building.”

Asked by the Athol Daily News if any sanctions had been handed down against Uma due to the unauthorized tree cutting, board Chair David Small replied, “There were no sanctions. So, the building inspector — he did look at it. He noted there was no erosion or anything from the property. And, consequently, all the of the engineering stuff has been produced and satisfied to the building inspector’s satisfaction.”

“It’s fortunate they left the stumps in because that kind of prevented the water runoff,” said Eric Smith, Athol’s Director of Planning and Development. “When we were having heavy rains during that time period, our building inspector had to drive by every single day, at least twice a day, to take a look at that location. But that kind of helped to stabilize any runoff issues.”

“The way the condition reads is ‘ground clearing,’ and, in fact, as Mr. Smith said, we didn’t pull the stumps. We didn’t scrub the ground or clear it.”

“Essentially, it’s the same concept as what was designed previously,” Eric Lane of Hayes Engineering, the engineer for Uma, then told the board. “It’s only been expanded out.

“It’s my understanding the number of employees is the same. If our parking requirements don’t change — the septic system, which has been designed and approved doesn’t change — it’s all based on the number of employees. And the original drainage system was designed in anticipation of having the larger building, so drainage has remained unchanged. It’s all essentially the same — just a bigger building.”

“If the board recalls,” Romano interjected, “initially that was our proposal. The special permit itself contemplated a 50,000-square-foot building, with 10,000 square foot incremental buildout, all the way up to 50,000. What we’re just trying to do is jump that first level and get to the 20,000 of actual building … but not actually increase our cultivation.”

Board member Marc Morgan then suggested one condition that should be included in any decision by the board would be the requirement that Uma notify the board of any increase in the number of employees that may require a change to the facility’s septic system.

Romano readily agreed.

“Certainly,” he said. “Let’s make that a condition, absolutely. Because I’m certain that was engineered and thought of ahead of time.”

Smith added that he wanted to memorialize a restriction of 6,700 square feet for the cultivation canopy.

“We will not have a canopy that exceeds 6,700 square feet,” said Romano, “until we have six months of odor-free operation, according to the permit conditions.”

The hearing was then closed, with the board scheduled to take a vote on Uma’s request at its next meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com

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