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Williamstown ZBA Approves Cannabis Operation's Demolition Request
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:37AM / Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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The entrepreneur looking to open a retail cannabis operation on Simonds Road in Williamstown has decided to tear down the existing structure, a former garage, and build anew.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday permitted the developer of a cannabis retail operation on Simonds Road to tear down the site's existing structure and build anew.
 
Sparkboro Wellness in August sought and received a special permit to open a location at 1017 Simonds Road (Route 7) just south of the Vermont state line.
 
At the time, it was planning to reuse the former garage at the site.
 
But Sparkboro's development team was back before the ZBA on Thursday to ask for approval of a change in its development plan because it has found that a remodel is unworkable.
 
"The logic for demolition of this building and construction of a new one is simply the age and type of construction," Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow and Associates told the Zoning Board. "It's not even close to being conducive to meeting the current codes. Furthermore, the southern end of the southern addition, the foundation is cracked and settling.
 
"The structural engineer and geotechnical engineer advised tearing it down and building something new."
 
Sparkboro had planned to take out the ceiling of the existing two-story structure and create a vaulted ceiling interior. Instead, it will build a one-story building on the same part of the property but with a slightly smaller footprint, dropping from 2,170 square feet to 2,100 square feet.
 
A couple of the Zoning Board members asked why the new building could not be built toward the south end of the property, farther from the U.S. highway's right of way.
 
LaBatt said the topography of the site made that solution unworkable.
 
"It would be very exacerbating on the site from a buildability standpoint," he said. "The 20-foot retaining wall that's 100 feet long would have to be pushed back. It might be 200 feet long.
 
"I guess that is possible. I'm not sure it improves the situation at all with respect to any of the special permits. I'm not sure it necessarily improves the project in general in its use as well."
 
The ZBA's other business on Thursday night involved revisiting a special permit that dates back even further.
 
In 2016, Williams College received permission from the board to install a modular unit at its Children's Center. At the time, the school sought a permit that would last for seven years but settled for the five years that the ZBA preferred.
 
On Friday, Williams asked for a five-year extension on the original permit, pushing it out to 2027.
 
"It probably makes sense because we're going to be using it for a longer period of time to purchase [the modular unit] rather than rent," said Jamie Art, the college's general counsel. "We can purchase the building and then figure out if we can use it somewhere on campus for swing space or something," when demand for space drops at the Children's Center.
 
"It also doesn't makes sense to purchase the unit now if we're going to have a permitting issue and not be able to use that space after January 2022. … We're trying to get this resolved now so we can plan accordingly."
 
Art said tacking five additional years onto the original five-year special permit would be a cost effective way to deal with the current child-care needs at the center and give the college a "planning horizon" to figure out what is next for the modular unit.
 
"Certainly, the space will be in good shape through that period of time, and it's nestled in a spot where it's visually unobtrusive," Art said. "We've had no complaints from neighbors. I think it's all gone well."
 
Donald Dubendorf, who was at Thursday's meeting to represent Sparkboro Wellness on its application, verified that, as a resident of the neighborhood, he had no complaints about the additional square footage the modular unit gave the Children's Center.
 
A different abutter, Maria Siskind, told the board that while she is OK with the modular unit staying in place longer, she had issues with the nighttime lighting at the Children's Center. Art promised to get in touch with Siskind after the meeting to discuss how the college could use screening to keep the lighting from spilling into her property.
 
Zoning Board member Vince Pesce asked Art if the long-term plan for the Children's Center includes a permanent addition to take the place of the modular unit.
 
"The long-term decision would be either we don't need more space going forward and the modular would go away or we're confident we're going to need this space going forward and we're going to build that with something other than this type of construction," Art said. "But we'd just like some extra time to make the right decision.
 
"Either this would go away or we'd be back with a new plan to build an addition, which might actually attach [the the center] in a different place."
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