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First Retail Pot Growers OK’d by City

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Creative Commons/Neon Tommy
So you want to sell retail pot in a downtown storefront with a catchy name. Where are you getting it? Ben Jenkins and Jesse Harper may have the answer. They appeared before the Montpelier Development Review Board this spring to propose a 3,000-square-foot area to set up a cannabis cultivation operation where they have asked to grow, trim, dry, and package cannabis intended for retail sellers. They do not plan to sell to individual customers themselves, they told the board during a meeting April 4. The board approved the application and a permit was issued April 12.

In Montpelier’s first cannabis cultivation application, Jenkins and Harper asked to set up shop on the second floor at 114 River Street — the building with the House of Tang restaurant on the first floor. The pair said their operation would not be connected in any way to the restaurant. Included in the renovation plans are two heat pumps/AC and a dehumidifier. Plans also include installation of new electrical outlets for lighting. All windows will be “blocked with something solid,” so it is well hidden from the public eye.

What Does Security Look Like?

The Montpelier Police Department posed questions on the application for the board to ask applicants how they would deal with security, according to Zoning Administrator Meredith Crandall. Harper said they would have video surveillance at all points of entry, as well as individual entry codes for each door, so they can audit who is coming and going at all times by video and by the individual number. There will also be an alarm system with a central monitoring station that could be activated with motion-detecting sensors at all windows and doors. If the alarm is activated, the grow operators and police dispatchers would be alerted.

Board member Kevin O’Connell asked about access from within the restaurant. Harper responded that the restaurant would continue to be take-out only, and there would be no access from the inside. 

Growing Equipment and Odor Control

As for what equipment will be installed, Jenkins said lighting is a major component and that they will use around 40 to 45 LED lights. He also said they will install tables to collect runoff water, and that the system will be plumbed so no water will run downstairs. The lights do not make noise, he said. As for the odor, Jenkins said they would use a charcoal filtration system to reduce odor and clean air vented to the outside.

Board member Abby White asked for further details. “Can you talk about odor control? It sounds as if you are not going to have fans that you are going to be doing passive drying,” she said. Jenkins said they would use fans and dehumidifiers. White pressed on, asking if the smell would be detectable outside the building. Jenkins said odor can be detected outside. 

“You can get a whiff. I don’t know if there have been any complaints about the (medical marijuana) dispensary that is up the road (188 River Street) by the Trading Company,” he said. “I used to work there and every once in a while I’d get a whiff. There will be a smell, but I don’t think it will be anything too invasive.” 

Crandall said she had not received any complaints since she has been with the city (since May 2018). 

Traffic 

Board Chair Rob Goodwin asked about traffic. How often would trucks come to pick up processed plants? Jenkins said they plan to harvest every two weeks. Harper said the volume would not require a truck, but could be handled with a personal-sized vehicle. “We’re applying for a 1,000-square-foot cultivation license, which is the smallest tier on the pyramid.”

“So every two weeks a personal vehicle will take the product to a retailer,” Crandall recapped. This kind of business is new to Montpelier and does not have an existing use category. It is not a typical greenhouse because it is not just growing the plant, it involves drying and packaging, so it falls somewhere between a greenhouse and light manufacturing, Crandall said. And, since it is not going to be sold directly from the building, it is not considered retail.

The board went through their usual criteria: Site plan, lighting, traffic, parking, security, water, sewer, and said they were satisfied by what they have heard — especially since the outside will not be changed. But they paused for a moment to ponder “character of the neighborhood.” The sight and smell would not be significant, Jenkins reaffirmed. Further, most residents were across the street behind the businesses on the other side of River Street. Businesses include Vermont Security and Noyle Johnson among others. Harper noted the building is nondescript and they will not hang a sign to let people know what exists up there on the second floor of the House of Tang.

Board member O’Donnell mentioned how this is the first application of its type presented before the board. “So far it seems like it is a low-key kind of exercise, which is good. We’re going to see more of these, I am certain,” O’Donnell said.

Permit Issued April 12

Then, at Goodwin’s suggestion, the board unanimously voted to go into deliberative session at the end of the meeting to discuss the matter. A permit for a greenhouse/light manufacturing use was issued April 12 per an email from Meredith Crandall.

Unrelated to the April 4 Development Review Board meeting regarding whether or not the city can collect tax on cannabis producers, the state did not authorize municipalities to collect additional taxes on cannabis sales according to Montpelier’s government website, montpelier-vt.org. Nor did the state allocate additional revenues to host localities. The only potential local revenue for the city would be through enacting a local sales tax, the additional 1% would apply to cannabis sales.

Montpelier’s city council voted unanimously last January to approve the sale of marijuana to adults beginning in 2022. Also, on Town Meeting Day 2021, voters approved retail pot sales in Montpelier.


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