Council authorizes mayor to sign agreements for two marijuana businesses

WESTFIELD – The City Council voted Nov. 5 to authorize Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. to sign two Host Community Agreements; one with RC Retail, LLC, a marijuana retailer, and another with Hidden Hemlock, LLC, a marijuana micro-cultivator.

The Legislative & Ordinance Committee had brought both to the Council without recommendations. Chair William Onyski had also recused himself from the discussions because of a potential conflict of interest, but not with either applicant, he said.

“I have professional ties, completely unrelated to the marijuana industry, with another applicant for an HCA. I felt it important to recuse myself so there wasn’t even an appearance of conflict of interest,” Onyski said after the meeting.

The first group, RC Retail, LLC, is looking to locate a retail establishment at 265 Union St., one of four retail licenses available in Westfield.

During the L&O Committee meeting, Westfield Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said that the city law department had amended the HCA to include the requirements that the applicant submit a completed application for a final license to the Cannabis Control Commission within 270 days, and that the agreement becomes null and void if they do not commence operation within two years.

During the discussion at the City Council meeting Thursday, several councilors spoke up to say they would be a no vote on the HCA.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns said he would be voting no, because he didn’t like the location on Union Street and thought there would be traffic issues.

At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said, as he has in the past, that he would be a no vote on any recreational marijuana due to his long standing work with youth.

At-large Councilors James R. Adams and Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. both said they would be voting no for similar reasons. Morganelli also said a few residents had spoken to him about the Union Street location application.

“I will not vote for anything that has to do with marijuana; selling it, growing it. I’ve heard from too many people that have lost too many people. I’m a no to anything that comes in front of us,” said Adams, a funeral director and vice-president of Firtion-Adams Funeral Service.

Responding to a question from At-large Councilor Kristen Mello about whether RC Retail foresaw the need for a traffic light on Union Street, Adams said L&O had not been presented with any facts or plans for the business. He said future plans would go before the Planning Board.

Council President Brent B. Bean II asked if there were other questions from councilors.

“I would like to follow up, but if there’s no plan, I don’t know how,” Mello said,

Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy reminded the councilors that they were looking at a host agreement. “This is not the whole layout and the design. This needs to be done before they can go to the CCC to get their provisional license, and then they will go to the Planning Board,” Figy said.

“I think it’s a good location. It’s not clustered by the Turnpike, and is a larger piece of land with access to parking and other amenities. I’m a yes. We have four of them to give out. Whether we approve it or not, the citizens approved it. I think we should go forward,” Figy added, and said that the Planning Board can ask for a traffic study.

“They do have to go in front of the Planning Board. While it’s zoned correctly, it’s too close to at least one resident. Anyone in the public with issues, the Planning Board is where that will be heard, even though it’s technically zoned correctly,” said At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. The property is zoned Industrial A.

The Council passed the authorization with a vote of 7 to 5, with Councilors Adams, Allie, Burns, Flaherty and Morganelli voting no, and Onyski abstaining from the vote.

The second HCA before the Council was for Hidden Hemlock, LLC for 109 Apremont Way, a micro-grow operation that has already received a special permit from the Planning Board.

At L&O, Miller said Hidden Hemlock was advanced in the process with the CCC, having already gotten a provisional license for a site in Middleborough, Mass. He said they are looking to change the proposed site of the business to Westfield in a portion of the former Berkshire Industries building.

The business is seeking a Tier 1 license, permitting a 5,000 square foot canopy grow operation, the smallest given by the CCC. Tier 10 permits up to 100,000 square feet, according to one of the principles of Hidden Hemlock.

Miller said the HCA for Hidden Hemlock also includes a provision requiring the operation to begin within 180 days of the effective date, or within 90 days of receipt of a license. He said they are on a faster track due to plans to retrofit an existing building, and they have already been through the CCC process.

The City Council authorization for the mayor to sign the HCA with Hidden Hemlock passed with little discussion on a vote of 8 to 4, with Adams, Allie, Flaherty and Morganelli voting no, and Onyski abstaining from the vote.

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