Athol Selectboard OKs host agreement for marijuana operation

  • Attorney Phil Silverman, foreground, lobbies the Athol Selectboard for his client, The Botanist, Tuesday in Athol. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Published: 1/10/2020 9:59:24 PM
Modified: 1/10/2020 9:58:43 PM

ATHOL – The Selectboard Tuesday night narrowly approved a host community agreement (HCA) with The Botanist, a company with plans to construct a large marijuana cultivation and manufacturing operation in Athol.

A spokesman for the company said The Botanist is based in Worcester, but the HCA says its headquarters are on Portland Street in Boston. In Massachusetts, the company operates facilities in Worcester, Shrewsbury, Leominster, and Sterling, and also does business in New York, Florida, Maryland, and Michigan.

The board ultimately voted 3-2 to approve the host community agreement. Members William Chiasson, Stephen Raymond, and Holly Young supported the measure; Rebecca Bialecki and Lee Chauvette voted in opposition.

Company Attorney Phil Silverman of the Boston law firm of Vicente Sederberg told the board, “This is a project for a cultivation and product manufacturing facility over at 706 Petersham Road (Route 32). It’ll be 100,000 square feet when all things are said and done and we’re up and running; cultivation plus product manufacturing and laboratories.

“The company is a division of Acreage (Holdings), which is a national company; quite frankly, one of the best in the business in terms of the expertise and understanding of how to do this across the country.

“We really think this is a great opportunity here,” Silverman continued. “I think in particular the property that we’re talking about – this is a little different from the other ones you’ve been talking about because we really are building from the ground up. We’re going to be building a new building, an entirely new facility here. It’s an opportunity to see one of the better facilities you’re going to see in Massachusetts. When you’re trying to retrofit buildings, it’s a little harder to do than when you just get to do it from scratch. You get to create it the right way right from the beginning.”

“This is a green space that’s going to be filled with a building,” said board Chair Bialecki, “so, I would debate you about the retrofit.”

The HCA presented Tuesday night requires The Botanist to pay the town the standard 3 percent local sales tax, as well as an impact fee – also based on sales – to help mitigate any costs the town may incur as a result of the business operating in Athol.

“The annual fee,” Silverman explained, “will be the greater of 3 percent of gross revenues or $75,000. The agreement also provides for a $30,000 charitable donation annually, and a one-time $5,000 fee, which is to cover some of the costs that have been incurred to negotiate the agreement. The agreement lasts for five years, which is the maximum allowed under state law.”

Board member Chauvette, directing his question to Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, asked, “What’s the difference between 1620 Labs getting a $10,000 one-time legal charge, and this much larger facility, that’s going to obviously require additional work from our town employees – and they’re at $5,000?”

Sixteen-twenty Labs is building a cultivation facility of between 10,000 and 11,000 square feet on Exchange Street.

Suhoski said the town was new to the review process when the smaller company negotiated its HCA in 2018. He said the town formed a task force to determine which issues were of greatest priority to the town, the Planning Board needed to develop new zoning bylaws, and a planning consultant had to be hired to provide technical assistance. In addition, he said, more time was spent on the legal review of earlier agreements. Over time, he concluded, those costs have diminished.

Bialecki seemed to echo Chauvette’s concerns, saying she questioned the equity of charging The Botanist half the amount charged earlier applicants for the one-time fee, particularly given the fact The Botanist will be nearly ten times as large as 1620 Labs, for example.

Town Counsel John Barrett, responding to a further inquiry from Bialecki, opined that the town would likely not be opening itself up to any legal challenges by establishing a different fee for each applicant.

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