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Pot Shop Q&A in Fitchburg

August 21, 2018
Pot Shop Q&A in Fitchburg

Hal Melanson, right, describes a proposed marijuana cultivation and retail shop on 644 River St. in Fitchburg during an outreach meeting Monday night. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / ELIZABETH DOBBINS Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- About a dozen people listened and asked questions on the latest proposed cannabis venture in the city, which plans to turn warehouse space at 644 River St. into a recreational marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and retail facility.

From parking to smell to perks for regulars, many of the questions during a community outreach meeting Monday night were focused on pinpointing the effects of this business, proposed by Blue Collar Botany Corp., on the city.

Company President Hal Melanson said the Blue Collar Botany will hire at least 12 people, with a preference for Fitchburg residents.

“We need to have qualified people who are applying, but if someone is applying from Acton and someone is applying from Fitchburg and they’re close then the Fitchburg person would be given priority,” Melanson said when state Rep. Stephan Hay, D-Fitchburg, asked him to clarify the procedure. “That also goes for business to business too.”

Though Melanson’s company is the fourth to pursue a recreational retail store, and the eighth to move forward with plans to cultivate and manufacture in the city, unlike other applicants, Melanson is a local resident who grew up in Fitchburg.

This quality was a plus for Fitchburg resident Rosa de Sousa, who runs a local cannabis consumer advocacy group.

“Home loyalty,” she said. “Red Raiders.”

She asked if there would be an ATM inside the store so people didn’t have to carry large amounts of cash inside and if there would be a rewards program for regulars. Melanson said he would consider the suggestions.

After the meeting, de Sousa said she likes what she sees so far.

Michael McLaughlin, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, expressed skepticism regarding the facility and the city’s approach to marijuana.

“I feel that the city of Fitchburg has gone way too fast with the newness of this,” he said.

He asked what the business planned to do about the smell, which he said has been an issue at other cultivation facilities.

According to Melanson, the growing rooms will be sealed with a carbon filter and scrubbers to remove the odor. He said he has not heard of problems with the smell at other facilities.

“The only way that would go out is through a carbon filter,” Melanson said.

Additionally, he said the roof of the building, which he purchased in 2011, will be replaced before the facility’s tentative 2019 opening. He said renovations will also include either stripping or repainting the bricks, renovating the trim and securing doors and windows.

“By revitalizing these buildings it will make a big difference in the appearance of our community,” he said.

Both Melanson and an abutter who declined to give his name, asked about the plan for parking.

Melanson said a parking attendant will be on the premises during the retail shop’s business hours. If approved by the host agreement, the store will be open 10 a.m. through 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Employees will park in a different area of the building, and one or two employees may occasionally visit the building at night to respond to issues with equipment, according to the chemist expected to work for the company, Steven Daugherty.

Melanson said he expects high demand will mean initial crowds and traffic, which will decrease over time.

“Maybe the first weekend or the first few weeks there may be a fair amount of traffic,” he said.

The company is proposing to have 5,000-square-feet of grow space inside the 45,000-square-foot building, which is small compared to state maximum of 100,000-square-feet, Melanson said. He said some of the product will be sold wholesale to other retailers and the rest will be sold at the company’s store.

Next, Melanson said he hopes to sign a host agreement with the city and then apply to the state for licenses.

The business will be subject to a 3 percent local tax on marijuana and any fees or donations collected by the city through the community host agreement. The company’s annual payroll will be over $700,000 and Melanson said he expects to make a $1 million initial investment in the facility.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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