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Springfield City Councilors question how a marijuana cultivation project advanced despite running afoul of zoning rules

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Massachusetts Innovation Works
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A marijuana cultivation operation proposed on Page Blvd would be the first of its kind in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The $20 million project needs a favorable Council vote to advance

A proposed marijuana growing operation that would be the first in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts remains stalled amid controversy.

City Councilors are questioning why the developer of a proposed $20 million marijuana cultivation facility in East Springfield was allowed to change the site plan for the project after it had been reviewed and recommended by an evaluation committee appointed by the mayor.

Under the original building plans for the 47,000 square-foot marijuana growing facility at what is now a vacant lot at 299 Page Blvd. it ran afoul of a zoning requirement for a 250-foot buffer from the nearest house.

City Councilor Kateri Walsh said it looks as if the city flaunted its own zoning regulations.

“To me, that means you have to reopen the whole process because perhaps you were not fair,” Walsh said.

The project proposed by Page Cultivate LLC was one of nine marijuana businesses approved last May by Mayor Domenic Sarno – it was the only cultivation company.

To move forward, the development needs a special permit from the City Council.

At a hearing to consider a permit for Page Cultivate, Walsh was joined in questioning the fairness of the process by Councilors Justin Hurst, Tracye Whitfield and Victor Davila.

“ The (zoning) ordinance that was written years ago by the Council for the betterment of Springfield is being made a mockery of,” Davila said.

City Solicitor Ed Pikula said site plan changes for construction projects is something that happens all the time.

“And it is typically handled in our site plan review and is not something that would be a disqualifying cause,” Pikula said.

Last June, when an attorney for a competing marijuana cultivation business wrote letters to City Councilors pointing out that Page Cultivate’s original site plan ran afoul of the buffer zone requirement it led to an investigation by the city auditor who concluded the process City Hall uses to pick which marijuana businesses should get a local permit was objective and fair.

Hurst, who called for the audit, did not agree with its conclusion.

“I think it is important to have a process that is fair and if it is not fair we need to call it into question, which is what I will do,” Hurst said.

In its presentation to the City Council, Page Cultivate said it will pay the city more than $1 million annually under the terms of a host community agreement in addition to property taxes.

The company said it expects to employ 50 people.

The East Springfield Neighborhood Council has endorsed the project.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.