WESTERLY — A medical marijuana cultivation operation and a solar power project are planned for the Westerly Granite Co. Inc.'s Bradford quarry property.
The two new endeavors, if approved, would be in addition to limited quarrying operations that occur on the 104-acre property located off of Church Street that was the former location of Copar Quarries of Westerly.
The project has encountered one potential stumbling block out of the gate — Westerly Chief of Police Shawn Lacey will not sign off on the medical marijuana cultivation portion of the project. The town's land use boards and departments seek approval of the police chief for many projects "as a best practice," said Lisa Pellegrini, director of the town's Department of Development Services, which includes the planning, zoning, and building departments.
"This department will not be approving any type of marijuana facility within this town. This department is sworn to enforce local, state, and federal laws, in which any type of marijuana facility still remains a violation on the federal side," Lacey said in an email to the Planning Department.
Lacey noted that former Police Chief Richard Silva signed off last year on plans for a medical marijuana facility planned for Frontage Road.
"I think he was saying he didn't have issues with the building going up and the building plan but it becomes an issue of what am I signing off on," Lacey said. "Is it just the building and parking or is it part of my responsibility to sign off if I have an issue with the type of business that is going to be conducted. My feeling is that I have to look at all of that."
The proposed medical marijuana facility and solar project are designated as major land developments as described in the state law that establishes the types of reviews to be conducted by municipal planning boards. A portion of state General Law 45-23-40, which sets out the review process, states that, "Initial comments will be solicited from: Local agencies including, but not limited to, the planning department, the department of public works, fire and police departments, the conservation and recreation commission."
The effect of Lacey's decision not to sign off is unclear. Pellegrini said she planned to research the matter further and discuss it with the town's planning and zoning attorney.
The medical marijuana cultivation would occur in the larger of two existing storage sheds on the property. A 100-by-300 foot storage building would be constructed as part of the grow operation.
George Comolli, a principal in the family owned Westerly Granite Co. Inc., said the cultivation would be run by South County Cultivation Inc., which would be a tenant on the property. The marijuana would be sold to one of the state's compassion centers, the only outlets approved by the state to sell medical marijuana to approved patients.
The solar power system would consist of three arrays on the on the eastern and western ends of the property. According to plans filed with the Planning Department, the arrays would have a total capacity of about 3.7 megawatts. Comolli said the power project would be run by Kersarge Energy, a Boston-based company, which would sell electricity generated by the project to National Grid.
The two new projects would have little effect on traffic in the area, he said. The medical marijuana facility is expected to require just one part-time employee and the solar project, once built, would require only occasional maintenance. The medical marijuana cultivation would be fenced and other security measures would also be implemented.
Use of the sprawling property for a solar project is in "the best interest of preserving the quality and enjoyment" of neighboring property owners' land, Comolli said.
Copar ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in August of 2015, after about five years filled with lawsuits and fights with neighboring property owners, the town, and complaints filed by state and federal agencies.
Cherenzia Co. leased the land from Westerly Granite Co. after Copar's departure and was initially focused on bringing the property into compliance with state Department of Environmental Management orders to address huge stockpiles of stone dust left by Copar. Cherenzia later started limited quarrying using occasional blasts to harvest large sections of stone used for jetty construction. Rawson Materials acquired the lease for the property last March, when it also purchased Cherenzia's quarries on Old Hopkinton Road and White Rock Road.
Comolli said Rawson will continue to use the quarry for the limited activities carried out by Cherenzia.
The Planning Board is scheduled to conduct a pre-application and concept plan review of the proposed project during a meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The meeting was originally scheduled for Feb. 21, but was postponed due to concerns regarding proper legal notice. The concept review is an optional step that developers use to get feedback from the board and town staff.