WESTERLY — Plans for a medical marijuana cultivation facility proposed for the former Copar Quarries site will move to the Zoning Board of Review now that the Planning Board has unanimously approved the project's master plan.
The board approved the master plan and rendered a positive advisory opinion to the Zoning Board during its May 21 meeting. The vote came after neighboring property owners expressed concerns about security, odors, water use and potential truck traffic.
South County Cultivation Inc. would run the medical marijuana operation as a tenant of Westerly Granite Co. Inc., which owns the 104-acre property off Church Street/Route 216 in Bradford. Ricky Comolli, the principal owner of South County Cultivation, is George Comolli's nephew. George Comolli and his relatives are the principals of Westerly Granite Co., and Comolli is also the company's lawyer.
An existing 3,230-square-foot steel building would be used for the growing operation. Upgrades to the interior of the building would be made and a 6-foot security fence would be installed and encircle the building. Motion detectors and security cameras would be located on the fence and on the interior and exterior of the building. The marijuana would be sold to one of the three state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.
The growing operation will use either the town's municipal water system or a well drilled at the site, said Sergio Cherenzia, of Stonington-based Cherenzia Associates, the project's engineer.
Denise Rhodes, a resident of Niantic Highway in Charlestown, said she was concerned that the project would have a detrimental effect on the availability of water. Rhodes said many nearby residents had to redrill their wells because of Copar's blasting when it quarried the site.
Rhodes, who was a frequent critic of Copar, also expressed concerns about security and whether the cultivation operation would expand in the future. George Comolli said the fact that two employees would occasionally be at the facility would increase overall security on the property. The operation would use a minimal amount of water, he added: "We use less than 5 gallons per day, which is much less than if we built a house."
Ricky Comolli said the facility's security system would be set up to notify the Westerly Police Department of potential problems. Parts of the marijuana plants that are trimmed will be crushed and disposed of as trash, Comolli said. The company will notify the police department before marijuana is picked up one of the compassion centers, he said.
Regarding potential truck traffic, George Comolli said the facility's two part-time employees will drive passenger vehicles to the property and take Quarry Road to access the property. The Comollis agreed that any trucks that might visit the facility would enter from Church Street.
Copar, which leased the property from Westerly Granite, conducted quarrying operations on the property from late 2010 to August of 2015. The period was marked by a slew of complaints about the company's manner of operations. There were lawsuits and regulatory sanctions from the town, state and federal agencies.
After the Copar ordeal, Comolli said his family's company and the town worked on an agreement aimed at encouraging "benign" uses for the property. "Instead of 'thank you' we're having feedback from the neighbors saying don't use your property," Comolli said.
James A. Hall IV, Planning Board chairman, noted that Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey had declined to endorse conceptual plans for the medical marijuana facility and asked Comolli to have a public safety official available to speak with the board about the project during its next level of review.
On Wednesday, Lacey reiterated his overall opposition to medical marijuana facilities because federal law still prohibits possession of marijuana. However, he added, "If the town chooses to approve this facility we will respond to all calls for service."
Edward Balbat, whose Quarry Road residence in next to part of the Westerly Granite property, said he was concerned about odors and the facility's effect on the value of his home. "Would any of you people want to be next to a marijuana building?" he asked.
Westerly Granite is also planning to lease a portion of the property for the installation and operation of two solar power arrays by Kersarge Energy, based in Boston. They would be on the west and east sides of the site. Additionally, George Comolli has discussed using a portion of the property for indoor storage of equipment from the former Bradford Dyeing Association mill.
Rawson Materials, which is also a tenant, will continue to perform "severely conservative" quarrying, Comolli said. The quarrying work will be focused on large jetty stone used for sea walls and will require "limited to no blasting and washing" of stone product," he said.