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North Adams Planners Reject Setback Waiver for Cannabis Operation
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:41AM / Tuesday, March 12, 2024
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Planner Kyle Hanlon helps Latent project manager Claire Seizovic on Monday after technical difficulties prevented displaying her presentation on the screen. The Planning Board approved her project, a cafe on Main Street, but nixed a waiver needed for a cannabis operation on River Street.

The cannabis store is part of a proposed redevelopment of the former Deep property at River and Marshall. It's unclear if the other aspects will move forward now. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board on Monday unanimously shot down a setback waiver request for a cannabis dispensary on River Street across the street from the UNO Community Center. 
Rolling Hills Group LLC was requesting a waiver from the city's required 500-foot setback from schools, day-care centers or places where "organized youth activities occur" saying the retail outlet would be secure and it didn't think its existence would have an impact. 
"I think that I'm totally sympathetic and I don't have any problem with their use," said Planner Rye Howard, participating remotely. "But I think we have the 500 feet in their for a reason ... and without a good reason to overrule that I don't see how we should approve that."
Rolling Hills was asking for the setback to be reduced to 105 feet — an 80 percent reduction — to allow the state permitting to go forward. 
Group partner Ben Partuk acknowledged that they had been aware of not only the UNO Center and its basketball court but also the parks and playground on the other two corners but saw the downtown area as ripe for investment.
"My business partner and I have recently moved our families here from Los Angeles with the goal setting down our roots in North Adams," he said. "We have so far in the past year, purchased and renovated seven residential and commercial properties and focused all of our endeavors and investments in the city of North Adams."
The former Deep Associates property would be renovated for a restaurant, professional office space and food delivery, and, on the corner, the cannabis dispensary. The garage would be torn down to make way for parking with 13 spaces and two accessible spaces. 
He noted that they had signed a community host agreement with the city and went over the security precautions as required by the state. 
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which helps operate the community center, objected to a marijuana shop across from where children gather and Executive Director Amber Besaw had shared her written concerns with the mayor and the board. 
Attorney Stephen Pagnotta, of Donovan O'Connor & Dodig, said the voters of Massachusetts had determined that the sale and consumption of marijuana was legal. He described Besaw's letter as addressing "societal concerns."
"In the letter, coalition talks about the number of minors who uses marijuana. The number of miners who use alcohol. Those statistics are there and exist today," he said, and referenced the letter as saying adults were giving marijuana to minors on the basketball court. "That will continue to occur regardless whether this facility is permitted or not. And I would argue that this facility will not have impact on the marijuana use of miners."
Besaw said the letter more specifically stated that "substances" were being seen shared by adults with minors and that modeling behaviors for young people was a concern.  
"Our organization, along with partner organizations, surveys every eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grader in this county every two years and asks them about their risk and protective factors, what keeps them from using substances and what triggers they use for them," she said. "And what we know is that what our kids are telling us — that alcohol, marijuana and vape products are the top three substances of use.
"And what our kids are also telling us is that they get them from trusted adults and often from their own homes, with the parents' permission."
Marijuana may be legal, Besaw said, "but our kids are telling us is that they believe that community's laws and norms support their use, and are permissive of their use."
Resident Dennis Costello said it was a heavily settled area with a lot of traffic. He asked how a dispensary would help families and children in the neighborhood.  
"But you know as the parents patronize it, the pattern is set in the family and they will, as it's already been stated, they will move right into it because mom and dad do it," he said. 
Larry Jones, pastor of Living Hope Community Church on River Street, didn't think it was right for the community and said his church works with people suffering from addiction. 
"I have yet to meet anybody there who's actively using marijuana who doesn't want to stop," he said. "It's not good for our community. It's not good for the persons that are using it. ... it sends the wrong message and undoes what we're trying to do."
Resident Craig Seguin said he understood the concerns about addiction but felt it was a matter of personal responsibility. He thought the group had been doing a good job, was willing to make a commitment and was good for the economy. "I guess my statement is giving them a chance," he said.
The city has two permits for cannabis retail, one of which is held by Clear Sky on State Road. Two other proposed dispensaries have also been approved though state licenses have not yet been granted. 
In answer to a question, Partuk said he could not guarantee that the other aspects of the property's development would move forward. It was a discussion between the partners, he said.  
Planner Kyle Hanlon motioned to deny; Lisa Blackmer, Hanlon, Howard, Paul Senecal, Dean Bullet and Jesse Lee Egan Poirer, acting as chair, voted in the affirmative. 
The board did approve a pop-up eatery at 90 Main St., the former TD Bank building. Latent, owned by Greylocks Works developers Karla Rothstein and Salvatore Perry, was approved last fall for an extensive redevelopment of the structure. 
Claire Seizovic, project manager, said their collaborator is Touchy Coffee of Troy, N.Y., which will offer coffee and items daily from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the month of May. 
"The pop-up will consist of takeout cafe service in the former ATM cut out with grab-and-go items in the glass vestibule entrance area, and exterior seating on the sidewalk under the overhang to create a place for people to gather and hangout and activate Main Street," she said. "Touchy will serve both espresso and drip coffee daily. They will also have need to order breakfast sandwiches on the weekend. And grab-and-go items will be available daily."
The kitchen will be behind tellers' stations and the cafe will be a test of the market and community response as the group begins plans to expand into the interior. 
"What we're doing here is we're preparing for eventual long-term occupancy for a food and beverage operator," Seizovic. "At this point, we are the operators and Touchy a collaborator. But eventually we have to garner an anchor tenant whether it's Touchy or a similar type of business."
In other business, the board also approved special permits for: 
• Red Oak Ventures LLC to operate an office at 349 State Road as Star Gift Alliance. Owner Michelle Pekrol will purchase the property, currently occupied by Benchmark Kitchens, and plans no further improvements other than a possible fencing at some point. The business deals in specialty merchandise for the music industry and instrument storage and will not be open to the public. 
• Alan J. Aubin to construct a mini-self storage facility at 16 Bracewell Ave., pending Zoning Board Approval. 
• Michael Cappuccilli to operate a women's undergarments store at 77 Main St., the former J.J. Newberry's. The space, owned by Scarafoni & Associates, had more recently held two pop-up textile retail shops. Cappuccilli planned for some interior improvements only. He was approved with the condition he submit signage to the board before opening. 
Dr. Benjamin Woolnough for property located at 98 Church St. to operate a dentistry. The space had formerly been dentist offices but more recently the COVID-19 center for Berkshire Health Systems and the offices of the Northern Berkshire School Union. 
• Blackinton Operating LLC to operate short-term rental properties at 1392 and 1388 Massachusetts Ave. Eric Kerns and Ben Svenson represented the company, which with its affiliates owns Tourists on Route 2 and much of the land between it and Massachusetts Avenue up to Ashton Avenue. The abutting properties have been fully renovated and will be operated by a professional manager. 
"We're the first ones over the wall to become compliant with the STR ordinance that was approved last February [2023]," Kerns said. "I know that there's maybe a process forthcoming but we wanted to go ahead and jump in."
The group was commended for its efforts. "Nicely done," said Hanlon, and Blackmer (also a city councilor) said she appreciated "this whole package and all the work you're doing to comply and kind of set the example of what we're looking for."


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