Pot company coming to former drill facility

  • The former Union Butterfield tool manufacturing facility at 134 Chestnut Hill Ave. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/DEBORRAH PORTER

  • Marijuana in its different forms. METRO CREATIVE CONNECTIONS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2018 10:45:10 PM
Modified: 6/29/2018 10:45:24 PM

ATHOL — The 365,000-square-foot former Union Butterfield tool manufacturing facility at 134 Chestnut Hill Ave. will soon be the site of a medical marijuana cultivation facility as the Athol Board of Planning and Community Development has approved a special permit for MassGrow LLC to operate there.

Chairman David Small, Rick Hayden, Kathy Norton, Calvin Taylor and Duane Truehart approved the special permit. Aimee Hanson and Jacqueline Doherty were not present.

Frank Perullo, spokesman for the applicant, said it will take about two years to implement the growing, processing and transportation project. He noted $18 to $20 million in building improvements are anticipated.

“That’s the type of investment we’re making in the town,” he said, adding he is “in the middle of permitting over 20 facilities across the state.”

Perullo, who lives in Arlington, said he will be here full time in Athol.

“We will be a good corporate neighbor,” he said.

Union Butterfield, also formerly the Union Twist Drill, closed in the early 1980s following the workers’ union strikes. Owner of the L.P. Athol Corp. building, Vincent “Bill” Purple, 94, who purchased the building in 1986, said following the vote this week that there are a few tenants who will have to find space elsewhere. He would not elaborate.

Perullo said 75 jobs will be created in the first eight months of operation; and that is expected to increase to 150 jobs within 18 months.

“It’s a competitive industry,” said Perullo, who added, of the 75 initial positions, 60 will be full-time with full benefits. “This is not Colorado. We’ll have to train everyone.”

Starting salaries will be $15 to $20 per hour, with $20 the average wage, depending on the position, with full benefits, except a 401K plan.

“That will not be offered to everyone. Cannabis is going up, manufacturing is going down,” said Perullo.

Local hiring

Perullo was asked if MassGrow planned to hire workers from the immediate area. He said, “If we have the right applicants, yes.” He then mentioned the company plans to hold a local job fair and added, “I hope we get a lot of people from Athol.”

He said other facilities employ 25 percent of workers from the host community. He was asked about statements read in a Boston Globe article that alluded to hiring former inmates from the Suffolk County House of Correction and why he didn’t mention that notion during his initial presentation to Athol officials. Perullo said he didn’t know about it prior to the meeting with Athol, and it was the sheriff who had raised the possibility.

“That vision is in Suffolk,” he said, adding, the “paper inflated” those comments.

At a recent selectmen’s meeting, Lee Chauvette asked town lawyer John Barrett if it was possible to put language in the community host agreements with marijuana manufacturing facilities to give priority to local residents.

“I think our citizens should have priority over jobs,” he said.

Barrett replied, “We actually have it in there; in our first proposed draft we had it in there, they would give preference to local residents and hiring. They didn’t object to that. I think the qualification there is ‘qualified’ people. If they need someone who is a horticulturalist and there’s no one there with the right credentials, they may hire out of town. We can’t compel them; can’t require them to give us a manifest to show us where these people come from. They have agreed to give preference to local citizens and hiring.”

Positions will include floor workers tending to crops, manufacturing, horticulturalists and full-time security positions. There will also be a commercial kitchen to make food.

“We use the oils to create a butter,” Barrett said.

The plants will be organically grown and used in products such as infused foods and oils.

Barrett noted each person hired will have to undergo four to eight weeks of training.

“It’s expensive for us,” he said.

This facility would be the second largest. in town, after the L.S. Starrett Co.

Small said he was “pleased to have new industry that will offer good jobs.”

Purple, his daughter, Cindy Hartwell, and her husband, Chuck Hartwell, business development director for L.P. Athol, were present at the hearing.

Purple, also pleased with the outcome, said, “I thank the people here for their positive response. You’ll see the building improvements. Everybody will be surprised how great this is going to be. They’ll be pleased with the final outcome. You can do a lot of work with $18 million. This is going to be huge.”

Cindy Hartwell said, “This is a great use for an old building.”

Following the vote, Perullo joked he was told “Mr. Purple comes with the building.” Purple has other ideas.

“Now I can retire,” Purple said.

The permit specifies, in part, that: it cannot be transferred or reassigned. The permit will lapse within two years; the facility will not act as a nuisance or hazard, nor will congestion be created.

On-site consumption of marijuana will not be permitted, and no marijuana product or any accessory paraphernalia shall be visible to the general public from the exterior of the building or property line.

The applicant will also make its best efforts to ensure the odor from marijuana or its processing shall not be detected by a person with an unimpaired and otherwise normal sense of smell at the exterior of the establishment or at any adjoining property.

Former Agway building

The former Agway building at 1 Exchange St. may also see new life as another adult-use marijuana and processing establishment.

The Planning Board approved a special permit for 1620 Labs LLC, which intends to operate a recreational marijuana cultivation and processing facility there on land owned by People’s United Bank.

The Agway store — which sold lawn, garden, farm and equine supplies, seed and pet products — has been vacant for more than a year.

The conditions were the same as those for the permit approved for MassGrow LLC, including an odor control plan and implementation of the applicant’s security plan. The applicant must provide a station on site for wastewater discharge sampling by the DPW and work to address any on-site pretreatment required of phosphorous and total nitrogen in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency permit requirements.

The applicants are also required to work with the Athol Police Department to determine if a police and fire repeater system is required to be installed on the premises and ensure a system is in place for police to access surveillance cameras during a holdup alarm and/or other public safety and security threats.

Gas station makeover

A third special permit for a licensed marijuana establishment was approved for Elev8 Cannabis LLC to operate an adult-use retail dispensary at the former Mobil gas station at 243 Main St., across from the post office. Renovations of the building are underway.

This is the first of two permits that will be allowed under the limit established by voters at Town Meeting.

“The conditions are pretty much the same,” Small said.

In addition, the company was asked to revise its logo to exclude the image of a marijuana leaf, and to provide security cameras facing the Lord Pond Plaza parking lot. Parking must be executed according to the plan and odor control must be in place. It was noted the site plan approval is specific to Elev8, not to the property. If the business changes hands, the permit cannot be transferred. The process for a new permit must begin.

All three establishments must provide and post copies of the license issued by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.

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