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Agawam City Council approves new marijuana exception

Date: 6/15/2021

AGAWAM – Agawam City Council met on June 7 to discuss the newly proposed marijuana bylaws.

Solicitor Stephen Buoniconti explained, “TOR-2021-2 is a recommendation for the council to consider a change to the marijuana statutes within the town of Agawam.”

He went on to say, “Currently, in the town of Agawam, medical marijuana is allowed to be cultivated, manufactured and sold to regular customers under our ordinances. What is prohibited is any recreational sales.”

The City Council recently approved an exception for recreational sales that would permit the manufacturing of marijuana within the town of Agawam, but not the sale directly to any consumers within the town.

Buoniconti said, “This proposal before you this evening would do the exact same thing, but instead of manufacturing, would allow it for licensed indoor marijuana cultivation for recreational use.”

Although this is an exception, Buoniconti said they “tried to keep the exception quite narrow by permitting only an indoor use, which would require under the code of Mass. regulations, the approval of the Police Department, the Fire Department, the building inspectors office, and a whole host of the department heads, before any of these would be able to be operable within the town of Agawam.”

Buoniconti stated, “We’re asking for your consideration for this matter because of the economic development impact.”

He said the town continues to receive phone calls from prospective business developers who are interested in cultivating marijuana.

“Based on the change in the business model that we see in the marijuana industry, more and more developers are getting into this area, and the town of Agawam would receive a substantial benefit if this was permitted and we actually located one within the town,” he said.

Buoniconti said they would be allowed to negotiate a host community agreement – upwards of 3 percent of any sales that took place. Any marijuana that was cultivated within Agawam and sold, no matter where it went, the town would receive up to 3 percent in those gross proceeds.

Following Buoniconti’s presentation, Councilor Gerald Smith asked, “Are there any projections on the amount of money that the town may receive from this?”

Buoniconti responded, “Through the president, we do not know – but the cultivation sale of raw product is still quite expensive and we would expect that anyone that comes in here is going to put down a substantial investment into the property.”

His predictions lie somewhere between $2,000 to $5,000.

He went on to say, “There is a little trickery to this … if you receive a marijuana cultivation license, the cultivation license allows you to both cultivate and manufacture. That is under the CMRs [Code of Massachusetts Regulations], so this could develop into an even bigger business.”

Councilor Dino Mercadante said, “Agawam has an ambitious schedule in front of it with infrastructure issues and looking for other revenue streams and this would probably be one that is rather innocuous – wouldn’t be so over as to affect the people in the area.

“Also I think with this extra money, Agawam can progress and do the things necessary it wants to do – going through this Capital Improvement Plan we just passed, so it seems on the surface to be something that we really have to take a good hard look at. I know that Chicopee just recently signed a big agreement to get involved with this, so it's something that looks like it’s worthwhile,” added Mercadante.

Council Vice President Cecilia Calabrese asked Buoniconti, “What are the other communities in this general area that are currently manufacturing and cultivating recreational marijuana?”

Buoniconti said the other local areas include Chicopee, Holyoke, Easthampton and Northampton. All of these facilities are indoors, however he is unaware of any outdoor facilities.

Councilor Robert Rossi shared, “This is not about the sale of marijuana in the community – it never has been in anything that we’ve ever done in connection of the recreation of marijuana.”

Mercadante reiterated Rossi’s point and said they have respected the residents’ vote “all the way down the line.”

This proposal was approved with a 10 to 0 vote with one absent.

The council also hosted a second public hearing, for an amendment Buoniconti explained would give provide greater latitude for a developer of an industrial zone property.

“This proposal would amend our code of the town of Agawam by doing two things,” he said. The first one would be to delete 500 feet in a certain place there of 225 feet – that would be the reduction of the buffer zone from 500 feet to 225 feet. The second would be to change the measurement of that buffer zone from the parsal line to parsal line, to building to building.

Buoniconti said, “This is within the prerogative of the City Council to take this action. A buffer zone, if it is not acted on, is 500 feet under the state regulation, but municipality can adjust and measure it in any way it so chooses.”

In front of the Planning Board, Buoniconti shared it was a unanimous vote to send a positive recommendation to the Council.

“When we are looking at parcels on the map and bringing in our engineering department, the 500 foot buffer zone parcel to parcel, almost restricts 70 to 80 percent of the industrial zone properties right out of the gate.” Buoniconti explained, in a town such as Agawam, with a limited supply of industrial properties, it makes it restrictive for businesses to come in.

With these amendments, Buoniconti said there would be greater consideration for an applicant.  Even if the council adopted this, any applicant would have to go through the Zoning Board of Appeals and receive a permit.

Suffriti again read the legislative report and said the committee gave a positive recommendation of four to zero, to send to the full council.

Mercadante said, “I believe that this buffer zone that’s created has no bearing on any other parcel and what their lot requirements are, should they want to put an addition on their house or something like that, and now that encroaches into the 225 foot area.”

Calabrese said, “This one troubles me … and I understand the practical effect of wanting to do this, but I'm troubled by it.”

Her hypothetical was “What if we kept the 500 feet, but instead of going property line to property line, we went building to building.”

She said she worries for the scenario that there is an industrial zone on one side of the street and residents or agriculture on the other side.

Council President Christopher Johnson said even if it’s left at 500 feet, this still takes out the majority of industrial zone parcels in Agawam. He believes it would be more important to consider if they were allowing outdoor cultivation, however, they are only allowing indoor cultivation.

Johnson said he thought this was a good compromise with the maximum amount of protection, while also including the mass majority.

When it came time to vote, the measure was approved with 9 to 0 vote with one absent.