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New England News

Great Barrington Selectboard Weighs Pot, Grants, Legal Actions

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The empty chairs of the Great Barrington selectboard as the members sat in a closed door executive session at Monday night's meeting.

The Great Barrington, Massachusetts selectboard dealt with recreational marijuana, Mass Development grants, and more at its Monday night meeting.

The meeting began with a 45-minute closed executive session regarding the town’s ongoing dispute with a trucking business located just off Route 7 northwest of downtown Great Barrington by the Elmwood cemetery. Selectboard chair Stephen Bannon delivered a statement saying that the session was “to discuss the potential purchase, exchange, lease of value of real property known as 11 Roger Road, because discussion of the foregoing and open session could have a detrimental effect on the litigating and negotiating position of the town and other public agencies.”

Complaints from residents about the sounds of heavy trucking operations have resulted in years of cease and desist orders, zoning violations, and lawsuits.

The board returned and approved host agreements for two more recreational pot stores in the South County town. Alexander Farnsworth, one of the co-owners of Highminded LLC, committed his business to two goals for the Berkshires.

“In part of our research, we hired a firm to conduct on the industry as a whole and the industry in Massachusetts, and it’s been shown that young people are leaving the Berkshires and the average age is getting older, and so we’re hoping to be part of a new industry that provides new jobs for young people.”

Selectboard member Kate Burke questioned Farnsworth on Highminded’s second stated goal.

“We are currently speaking with local cultivators-“

“Local? Like, how local?”

“Within a 20-mile radius.”

“Okay.”

“And we’re hoping we can source the majority of our products from the area.”

Highminded LLC is to be located in the former Methodist Church on Main Street owned by developer Paul Joffe, a structure notable for being lofted off the ground since 2015 while being reconstructed.

The board also approved the host agreement for Commonwealth Cultivation, which also hopes to open a pot store in Great Barrington. The two businesses join Theory Wellness and Calyx Berkshire Dispensary, which have also had host agreements approved by the selectboard.

The board heard an update on proposed state legislation around short-term rentals — specifically, Aibnb — that would allow the town to levy an additional 4 to 8 percent excise tax on rentals above $25 a night.

Town manager Jennifer Tabakin and selectboard member Ed Abrahams discussed the issue.

“The planning commission would be dealing with the zoning regulations. We don’t have any zoning regulations that pertain specifically to Airbnb.”

“Yeah, so my question is — what he’s talking about is just about taxation, not about zoning. That is something we could take up, or the planning board could take up, as Lenox is doing.”

Lenox’s planning board is working to present a proposal for the town’s Airbnb regulations for residents to vote on it at its town meeting in November.

Chris Rembold, Great Barrington’s town planner, introduced four proposals for a new Mass Development grant about economic development spaces.

“What it means is Mass Development gives small planning or actual workspace Fit Out grants to the private sector for folks who are looking to build spaces or plan to build spaces that will create jobs on a small scale, jobs that contribute to the local what they call ‘economic ecology’ of a community.”

In Housatonic, a village within Great Barrington, Greyhouse Partners is looking to develop a job creation space at the Housatonic School, as is the Studio for Integrated Craft in the former Housatonic Curtain Company space that it owns. In downtown Great Barrington, Berkshire Community College wants the grant to open a working kitchen, and the private owner of 406 Main Street would use the grant to turn her property into a co-working space.

The board voted to offer all the proposals letters of support for their grant applications to the state agency, due Friday.

Great Barrington is preparing for a special town meeting on August 6th to consider a petition to repeal the plastic bottle ban passed at its annual town meeting in May. The selectboard also discussed the formation of an Economic Development Committee for the town.

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