February 4, 2019
CENTRAL MASS IN BRIEF

Mega marijuana in Charlton persevering despite long odds

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Valley Green Grow wants to develop the land at Charlton Orchards into a massive cannabis cultivation complex.

Despite facing what may be an insurmountable uphill battle, the developer behind a planned $100-million marijuana growing facility in Charlton plans to continue pushing forward with the project.

"We feel as though we should not let those efforts go to waste," said attorney Michael Rosen, who represents North Andover-based Valley Green Grow.

Valley Green Grow is trying to offer a solution to the high startup costs for marijuana growers buying out warehouses or former manufacturing facilities. The company's planned 1-million-square-foot building – designed with environmental and marijuana processing efficiencies – can be leased out to several cannabis companies at once.

However, in Valley Green Grow's fight against Charlton residents who oppose the project, who call their organization Preserve Charlton's Character, the company may have it a snag, which eventually may derail it entirely. After the town gave initial approvals for the project, the Charlton Planning Board rejected the site plan because the property is zoned agricultural, but the board feels Valley Green Grow's use is light manufacturing or industrial.

Valerio Romano, a lawyer who helped write the 2017 Massachusetts law based on the 2016 ballot initiative approving recreational marijuana, said cannabis cultivation is not agriculture.

The Massachusetts Legislature explicitly delayed the rollout of the industry six months to tweak the law, and that included removing the cultivation of cannabis from the definition of the state's right-to-farm zoning laws, said Romano, who is now a land use and zoning lawyer with Colorado-based law firm Vicente Sederberg, LLC.

"That might adversely impact this operator," Romano said.

The cannabis fight

Valley Green Grow has now twice filed a lawsuit against Charlton: once to overturn a bylaw passed to ban all recreational cannabis companies, and once to reverse the Planning Board decision to deny the site plan.

Despite what someone like Romano may say, Valley Green Grow's prospects of winning in court look good, Rosen said. The company has already spent a considerable amount of time, energy and resources into the Charlton facility and isn't going to give up now.

Despite the delays, appeals and public opposition due to the issues with odor, traffic and the sheer size of the facility near a neighborhood, Rosen said Valley Green Grow is confident that the facility will be built.

If the project doesn't happen in Charlton, the company already has a list of other communities in which Valley Green Grow thinks building would be a possibility. They aren't even ruling out more than one facility, but Charlton is the focus right now, Rosen said.

A green, sustainable greenhouse

The proposed $100-million facility will utilize the latest technologies in engineering, including a cogeneration facility via a nearby gas pipeline and water recapturing technologies to keep costs as low as possible. The company is backed by Jeffrey Goldstein, a radiation oncologist ready to invest $100 million to build the facility on the site of the Charlton Orchards.

"Five to 10 years from now, as the market becomes saturated, it's really going to be the low-cost producer that's able to sustain a long-term market share," Rosen said.

The company is already in talks with companies that have expressed interest, and letters of intent are being drafted for three of them, Rosen said.

Valley Green Grow would be competing for the title of the largest cannabis greenhouse in Mass. with AmeriCann of Denver, a publicly-traded firm specializing in designing cannabis cultivation properties and is building a similarly large facility in Freetown.

The 987,000-square-foot Freetown greenhouse and manufacturing space is operating with a similar model and the same kind of energy-efficient technology Valley Green Grow is proposing.

AmeriCann itself, via its subsidiary AmeriCann Brands, also plans to occupy space in the facility to produce consumer packaged goods including vaporizer products, edibles and concentrates. The facility could have as many has seven individual businesses each with their own spaces for cultivation and manufacturing.

"From our standpoint, we believe we can achieve a high quality product and consistent production with our greenhouse technology," said AmeriCann CEO Tim Keogh.

Unlike Valley Green Grow, the project moved slowly, beginning in 2015 and just breaking ground in September. That involved educating and destigmatizing cannabis for the small town.

"Nothing in this business is easy," Keogh said.

Read more

Valley Green Grow appeals another Charlton Planning Board decision

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