Proposal for larger Royalston pot operation draws opposition

  • The marijuana cultivation operation currently being built by entrepreneur Damon Schmidt on Routh Royalston Road in Royalston. July 25, 2020. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

  • This sign, posted in Royalston center, urges the town's Planning Board to deny Damon Schmidt's request to increase the size of his cannabis cultivation facility, currently being built at the corner of South Royalston and Stockwell roads. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/28/2020 5:35:59 PM
Modified: 7/28/2020 5:35:57 PM

ROYALSTON — If a public hearing held by the Planning Board last week is any indication, local cannabis entrepreneur Damon Schmidt is about as popular in Royalston as a porcupine in a balloon factory. The hearing was held to allow for citizen input on Schmidt’s proposed amendment to the special permit he was granted to establish his marijuana cultivation operation currently under construction at the corner of South Royalston and Stockwell roads. The proposal calls for increasing the size of the facility from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet.

The businessman argued the larger complex is necessary to accommodate the 10,000 square feet of canopy for mature flowering plants allowed under the special permit and the town marijuana bylaw. The greenhouse being built — which also needs space for immature plants, bathrooms, and other amenities — falls short of that limit.

Board Chair Kate Collins admonished attendees by stating, “This hearing is on the amendment request; not on the special permit, nor on any town meeting article, nor on the zoning bylaw. This hearing is not a debate.”

Collins also noted the amendment, if approved by the board, “will not, I repeat, not increase the amount of marijuana grown.”

Schmidt was given time to justify his proposal, noting the expanded structure would also allow for the manufacture of cannabis-related items, such as edibles. But his explanation failed to mollify opponents of the plan.

“One of my main concerns is allowing manufacturing and, potentially, retail in Royalston,” said resident Christine Statuto. “It goes against the bylaws and it goes against the community and why we all live here. When you open that door, you’re potentially allowing more manufacturing.”

Schmidt explained that “manufacturing” is simply the term the state uses for the production of edibles and marijuana derivatives, adding there would be no smokestacks or pollution.

Statuto and others also faulted Schmidt for failing to foresee the need for a larger facility when he first applied for his special permit. He should, they argued, be required to live within the confines of his original site plan.

“There’s plenty of room to do what he needs to do without all the additions,” she claimed.

Resident Tom Leboeuf said the town should see how well Schmidt’s business does in the building under construction before permission is given to expand it.

“The town of Royalston wanted to make sure he would be successful with 10,000 feet before he asked for more footage,” he said. “For the town to allow for additional space — he hasn’t shown me that he has a viable business where the town’s going to benefit from taxes.”

“Tom, this is not an increase in the amount of marijuana grown,” Collins repeated. “This is an increase in the size of the building to accommodate what the zoning bylaw currently allows, which is 10,000 square feet of marijuana canopy.”

Resident Janice Trask expressed frustration upon learning the decision on Schmidt’s amendment won’t be voted on at town meeting.

“The reason that it will not go to a town meeting vote,” board member Josh Doub explained, “is that the 10,000 square feet of canopy is already our zoning bylaw. This does not constitute a bylaw change. The applicant is still applying under the 10,000 square feet of canopy that is currently allowed by the bylaw. That is why it won’t be voted on by the town.”

“I think it’s wrong that four or five people can decide for the whole town,” Trask responded.

Doub emphasized that the board will base its final decision on the law, not on any personal feelings. That decision is likely to come at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 12.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn.org.


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