HALLOWELL — Despite criticism from the public, a conditional-use permit was granted Wednesday to the operator of a proposed marijuana cultivation facility on Whitten Road.

Multiple citizens and local business owners spoke out at a Hallowell Planning Board public hearing Wednesday night, saying the facility may devalue their properties and create an unpleasant smell. After the hour-long hearing, the Planning Board deliberated the conditional-use standards and eventually voted 5-2, with one abstention, to approve the project’s conditional-use permit.

Lisa Rigoulot and Judy Feinstein voted no, while Jane Orbeton, who said she has worked on marijuana policy and wanted to appear objective to preserve any opportunities to do so in the future, abstained from the vote. Andrew Landry was absent from the meeting.

The approval was given under the condition the project be held to the strictest odor mitigation standards available from the state. The project’s operator, David Vickers, would still need further permitting and licensing, from the city and state, to move forward with the operation he laid out in his application.

The building at 268 Whitten Road, just north of Mattson’s Floor and Window Treatments, is owned by Augusta-based J&R Associates LLC. The application, filed Oct. 30, includes a purchase-and-sale agreement on the property, which says Vickers’ company will buy the building for $1.25 million. A rental listing for the building states that the building is 15,500 square feet and is fully built as a “standard office.”

Vickers operates Origins Cannabis Co. and has a medical marijuana retail store at 884 Western Ave. in Manchester.

There are “no immediate plans for signage” at the facility, and Hallowell Code Enforcement Officer Doug Ide told the Kennebec Journal that “no changes to the exterior of the building are proposed at this time.” During the hearing, Vickers said that if the project had not been the subject of a Kennebec Journal article or Wednesday’s public hearing, no one would likely know it was there.

Vickers would need a separate marijuana business license from the city to move forward with the project. Marijuana business licenses — which are good for medical and adult-use marijuana businesses — come with a $250 fee and are in addition to any other permits needed. That fee may change in the future, as the city’s Ordinance Rewrite Committee is reviewing the ordinance.

During Wednesday’s meeting Vickers said he anticipated licensing procedures from the state to be done by Dec. 5, and he planned to apply for a cultivation license then. He plans to pursue a local marijuana business license at that time.

Resident Terry Shepherd spoke during the public hearing to protest the project. He said the project violated the first conditional-use standard, which states that “the proposed use meets specific requirements set forth in this Chapter and would be in compliance with applicable state or federal laws,” because marijuana is illegal under to federal law.

Shepherd, who is the head of the Shepherd Family Trust that owns land abutting the proposed project, also said he objected to the facility’s proximity to the Camden National Bank Ice Vault and Sparetime Recreation, where children often gather.

“I wish that thing was back to the bowling alley that was there when I was a kid,” he said. “I just don’t think that this is a good location for it.”

The application overview said that the project will use energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems and “minimal amounts” of municipal water. Vickers said during the meeting that his “multi-million dollar” project would be built in such a way that no air, and therefore no odor, would be released outside of the building.

Rick Conant, who owns RLC Engineerings, which has an office at 267 Whitten Road, disputed the capabilities of the odor mitigation system to eliminate all odors from growing marijuana. He said his employees often leave their windows down during the summer while they’re at work and the marijuana odor would make their vehicles “smell poorly.”

Conant also said he purchased his Whitten Road property because it was in a professional, commercial environment and he would not have purchased the property if Vickers’s proposed business was there. He said it may harm his property’s value.

“I may have people say I can’t work in this environment,” Conant said. “When I moved to this property, this wasn’t anything I had to worry about.”

Linda Johnson, who said she was speaking at a planning board meeting for the first time, said she would like to see Vickers “go back to Manchester.” She said she has nothing against Vickers, but the potential facility is “upsetting” to her.

“I’ll be passing this facility several times a day,” Johnson said. “I think we can do better for Hallowell than to approve a warehouse.”

Vickers responded to the odor concerns by saying marijuana business owners are conscious of odor emissions because it is laid out clearly in adult-use rules. He said it was possible for odor emissions to be mitigated from his potential facility, and he plans on making the investment in the property to do so.

“I assure you the last thing we’re going to do is come into Hallowell … and devalue properties because of the smell,” he said.

Addressing a concern raised about the size of the crop, Vickers said he was planning to use 7,000 square feet of the facility for the growing operation, which will include medical and adult-use marijuana. He said he was not looking to build an “industrial” growing operation at the site.

Ide said a clause states that three odor complaints against Vickers’ project could trigger some sort of corrective action, which would be a fine or revocation of occupancy.

After the hearing, Planning Board members discussed whether the project met two other standards: If “the proposed use would not have a significant, detrimental effect on the use and peaceful enjoyment of abutting property as the result of … odor” and if “the proposed use would not have a significant, detrimental effect on the value of adjacent properties.”

Planning board member Darryl Brown Jr. called the two standards subjective, adding that the odor issue comes down to personal opinion.

“If you don’t like it, it’s an odor; if you do like it, it’s a smell,” he said.

Brown, responding to comments about odor and property values, said that he “truly believed” that Vickers was going to put “his honest effort” to mitigate odor to meet state rules, but he said the planning board’s job was to interpret the city’s rules on conditional uses.

“It’s looking like he’s followed (the conditional uses) pretty darn close,” Brown said. “As a board, we’re here to go by the book of ordinances.”

After casting their dissenting votes, Rigoulot and Feinstein said they did not believe the application met all of the standards.

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