Proposed Cannabis Cultivation Operation at Bennington Site

Proposed Cannabis Cultivation Operation at Bennington Site

Proposed Cannabis Cultivation Operation at Bennington Site

BENNINGTON – The Development Review Board has given the green light for an indoor cannabis cultivation operation at 452 Morse Road. The unanimous decision came after a brief public hearing on Tuesday, confirming that the business fits within the industrial zone’s regulations.

Nicholas Healy, a business owner from Niskayuna, N.Y., plans to use approximately 2,500 square feet of the one-story, metal-sided building for the cultivation. Healy and his wife, Virginia Johnson, own HVA Farms, LLC, which is applying for a Tier 2 Vermont cannabis license. This license permits up to 2,500 square feet of cannabis plant canopy.

Vermont’s state licensing program includes five tiers, with the highest tier allowing up to 10,000 square feet of cultivation area. Healy brings experience from working with commercial cannabis operations in Connecticut and Massachusetts and has also consulted on cannabis cultivation in New York.

Healy clarified that the facility will not engage in retail sales, which would require a separate license. Instead, the business will sell processed cannabis to licensed retail operations. The building, situated across from Suburban Propane and Granite City Electric, will be equipped with a security system featuring cameras.

During the board meeting, resident Sam Restino raised concerns about potential cannabis odors. Healy assured that the building is “very well-insulated,” a crucial factor in preventing odor issues. He also mentioned plans for equipment upgrades to enhance the existing air conditioning and circulation system.

Richard “Dixie” Zens, the building’s owner, vouched for the structure’s quality, describing it as “very well insulated” and a “great building.” Zens expressed confidence in Healy’s professionalism and experience, believing the operation would be a good fit for the building.

The facility was previously used by Abacus Automation Inc., which relocated to a larger space in the Shields Drive industrial park. Healy mentioned that there is potential for expansion within the building, which would necessitate applying for a higher-tier cannabis cultivation license.

Healy emphasized that the DRB approval is just the initial step. Renovation work cannot commence until a Tier 2 cultivation license is obtained from the Vermont Cannabis Control Board.

In related news, PhytoScience Institute LLC is focusing on a different Bennington site for a medical marijuana dispensary after facing opposition at a residential Elm Street location. The group has applied for town permits to operate a dispensary at 120 Depot St., in the former state Department of Motor Vehicles space.

The proposed dispensary would distribute medical cannabis to registered patients by appointment only and would include a separate space for selling hemp-related products. PhytoScience Institute anticipates a low-volume operation, expecting 10 to 20 patients per week.

The Depot Street location is zoned commercial, not residential, as confirmed by Planning Director Dan Monks. PhytoScience Institute has state approval for a second dispensary and is seeking a site in St. Albans. The group also plans to establish a marijuana cultivation facility in central Vermont.

PhytoScience Institute received conditional approval last fall for the state’s fifth medical marijuana program license. The group now needs to secure ownership or use of a proposed site and obtain local permits. A final state inspection is required before the sales license is issued.

Currently, PhytoScience Institute operates a laboratory in Waterbury that researches and develops medical marijuana and performs quality testing. The group serves the Vermont Patients Alliance and other entities, with VPA operating a dispensary in Montpelier.

Bennington is considered underserved by the state’s medical marijuana program, which currently has facilities in Brattleboro, Brandon, Burlington, and Montpelier. Applications for the fifth state license were received last year, and PhytoScience Institute was selected in September.

Legislation passed in 2017 allowed for a fifth cultivation/dispensary license and permits each of the original four license holders to establish a satellite facility in another area. Applications have been submitted for satellite dispensaries in Middlebury, South Burlington, Williston, and Hartford.

William Cats-Baril, CEO of PhytoScience Institute, mentioned that finding a suitable location in Bennington has been challenging due to the proliferation of child care centers in recent years. The required 1,000-foot buffer zone around the facility further restricts available space.

Cats-Baril hopes to address any misunderstandings about the medical marijuana facility, emphasizing that it is not a retail store but operates more like a medical practice with low patient volume. He expressed optimism about overcoming these challenges and plans to open the facility as early as March, pending permit approvals.

PhytoScience Institute is also looking for a site between Bennington and St. Albans for a marijuana cultivation facility. In the short term, the group has agreements with two existing license holders to purchase medical marijuana for patients in these areas.

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