Government Spotlight

Planning board returns to Tobey Road marijuana grow facility

| Joanne Cole |

At their June 1 meeting, the planning board, assisted by interim town planner Paul First, returned at length to John Lamparelli’s proposed commercial medical marijuana grow operation at 440 Tobey Road. They also approved rooftop solar panels for Louise Poppema’s residence at 443 Intervale Road and decided to resume in-person meetings and public hearings at the Meetinghouse as soon as next week.  

Medical marijuana grow facility at 440 Tobey Road.  Picking up site plan review right where they left off, the board focused on the water use and septic system, air handling and odor control, and visual buffer for applicant John Lamparelli’s proposed marijuana grow operation. 

An updated septic design is expected soon, consultant Jim Seymour said, but the basics are a drip irrigation system that would use 300 gallons of water per day. (Water demand was among abutters’ concerns).  Collector tanks inside would be pumped into an above-ground septic tank separate from the one for the residence that shares the site, and would ultimately be emptied for offsite disposal.  Design details to come.

Acknowledging that objectionable odors–another concern raised by neighbors–are subjective and difficult to measure, the board decided to request an engineer’s letter attesting that the facility’s air handling design reflects best practices.  Board member Doug McAtee had offered to do a “drive-by” odor check if Lamparelli could direct him to a similar operation in the area. In the end, an engineer’s letter was deemed more practical. Lamparelli said he’s putting “the best system in place,” adding, “I can almost guarantee you’re not going to smell anything.”

In the midst of discussion over plan specifics, new board member Cassandra Liberty asked whether the board should table Lamparelli’s application in light of pending litigation over a similar commercial marijuana grow operation.  Abutters had appealed to Superior Court the town’s approval of Scott Liberty’s Penney Road commercial marijuana grow project.  If the court were to rule against the town in that case, board member Liberty asked, what would be the impact on this project? 

Others had apparently raised the same question, and planner Paul First was ready with an update from the town attorney: the parties are awaiting a ruling but have no idea when or what its scope might be.  As a result, the board concluded it had little alternative but to proceed, with some risk that the Tobey Road project might be grandfathered notwithstanding an adverse ruling.  Member Ben Tettlebaum, an attorney, thought it was possible a court could make its ruling retroactive, but he also acknowledged that the planning board “can’t pause things indefinitely.”  Back to Tobey Road project specifics they went.

Visual screening has been a concern, specifically both the appearance and effectiveness of a “berm” that includes stumps among its materials.  The berm is looking decidedly better in recent photos, board members thought.  The applicant will also plant some two dozen 3- to 4-foot white pines: “a wall of pines.”  That plus other plantings and a no-cutting line should help provide the desired visual buffer, even if the stumps inevitably decompose and subside over time, board members thought.   

Not on the board’s checklist but raised by Fire and Rescue chief Jon Kiernan was adequacy and proximity of water for fire suppression, given the grow operation’s “intensive electrical use” and possible onsite storage of fertilizers.  Lamparelli explained that his proposed system is organic and live soils-based, with no toxic chemicals, compost pile, or stockpiles of bagged fertilizer.  As for a water supply, the 300,000-gallon pond he has had dug might support a dry hydrant, Lamparelli said.  He will be back before the board with follow-up items.

Roof-mounted solar installation at 443 Intervale Road.  Approval of solar panels for Louise Poppema’s residence at 443 Intervale Road was straightforward.  The panels will go on a garage roof and won’t be very visible from the road, Poppema said.  Others agreed.  As the property is in the Historic Overlay District, it is subject to additional review by the Historical Society, whose Alan Gregory gave it the official green light.  

In-person or Zoom?  With pandemic restrictions easing, the board discussed whether to resume meeting in person at the Meetinghouse or continue on Zoom.  Chair Don Libby, vice-chair Erik Hargreaves, and member Steve Libby favored a return to face-to-face meetings.  Doug McAtee mentioned Zoom’s convenience for being on-time after long workdays, and Cassandra Liberty also leaned Zoom but was flexible.  Ben Tettlebaum wished for a hybrid option that would permit board members to join remotely if necessary and allow citizens to testify at public hearings via Zoom.  A hybrid system would likely be a longer-term project for the town, he noted. 

Meetinghouse proponents prevailed.  The board’s next meeting, June 15, which will include a public hearing, will be back at the Meetinghouse.        

To watch the full video of the June 1 planning board meeting, click here.  For information about the planning board, its agendas and more, click here.