NORTH ANDOVER — The team proposing a 1-million-square-foot cannabis campus in North Andover gave the Planning Board a tour of the cavernous facility at 1600 Osgood St. last week to give them a feel for what it would look like in operation.
At May's Town Meeting, a majority of voters approved the plan, but it failed to get the two-thirds needed to pass.
Now, the team is in talks with the Planning Board to update the proposal in hopes of a Special Town Meeting to obtain proper zoning on the site.
The site visit was meant as a way for the team — whose proposed campus is named Massachusetts Innovation Works — to show town officials the magnitude of space at the former Lucent plant and how they plan to use it.
When Massachusetts legalized marijuana last year, Osgood Landing owner Jeff Goldstein said he saw the path for a burgeoning industry to fill the site that has been vacant since 2003.
Their pitch before Town Meeting in May was to change the zoning bylaw in town to include 1600 Osgood St. in the medical marijuana overlay district, but the Planning Board was critical of the lack of solid information provided for them to mull over in the few months before the petition went before voters.
The plan has been laid out in more detail in the months since it failed at Town Meeting and a team stacked with industry and policy professionals was introduced.
"What we're doing is innovative, but it's not experimental," Goldstein said.
Chief horticultural officer Harry van Duijne has experience in indoor horticulture and is head of cultivation at a medicinal cannabis company in the Netherlands.
"When I came here for the first time, I saw definite opportunities from this space," van Duijne said at the site visit, where he stood on the vast, empty manufacturing floor. "I've traveled a lot through Europe and America. There are no facilities like this."
Van Duijne said much of the infrastructure needed already is in place from the Lucent days, making the site appealing for large-scale cultivation, with a few technological updates.
A detailed look at plan
During the team's presentation and on-site tour, they provided slides with renderings of each area's use. The cultivation would be done on the warehouse floor, with multiple secure grow rooms.
The facility would produce plants and extracts and sell those products to other retail and manufacturing operations, which would provide funding for research and development.
In addition to the cultivation facility, the campus also would include an innovation center, which the team said would serve as an incubator for smaller companies within the industry.
Heading up the innovation center is Saar Shafir, who recently managed the implementation of a clean-energy initiative with the Israeli government.
"The reason we’re doing that is not because we want to do innovation for innovation’s sake, but because we think cannabis, like other sectors in agriculture, is going to turn from the high-margin, inefficient industry it is today to a sector in agriculture that is efficient, low-margin,” Shafir said. “And businesses that are going to be successful in this industry are the ones that will be able to capitalize on the relatively large profits in the early days and turn it into a higher-end product later on.”
During the presentation, the team also addressed issues of security and water consumption, and stressed that they will not sell directly to consumers at the site.
Normally, a failed article at Town Meeting would have to wait two years before being brought up again, but the decision to bring the proposal back before the town is up to the Planning Board.
"The rejected amendment may be resubmitted to the Board, however, the amendment may not move forward to Town Meeting unless the Board finds that the amendment is of a different character and then recommends in favor of the petition," reads a memo from Town Counsel Suzanne Egan.
The Massachusetts Innovation Works team must submit a revised and more detailed plan, which now hinges on the Planning Board's approval.
Bylaw in the works
While the Planning Board is considering allowing them to pursue a Special Town Meeting to move forward with their project, it is also in the process of developing a comprehensive zoning bylaw for marijuana in the entire town, including retail shops.
North Andover officials have said they expect to have a town-wide bylaw ready for Town Meeting approval no later than May 2018, but it is unclear at this time if a Special Town Meeting in November is an option for the specific proposal in the eyes of the Planning Board.
Planning Board Chair John Simons did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the site visit, but said at a previous meeting that the town will go at its own pace to craft a bylaw, and would not provide the group with an end date for them to have a permit in hand.
Members of the Board of Selectmen also attended the site visit. Selectman Phil DeCologero said he was impressed with their presentation.
“It's almost like night and day,” he said, referring to the information presented at the site visit, compared to information the group had presented leading up to Town Meeting. “The information they compiled appeared to me to be a lot more substantive. I think the Planning Board has a lot to look through.”
DeCologero supported the proposal at Town Meeting.
Selectwoman Regina Kean, who also supported the zoning changes in May, said she looks forward to the group continuing conversations with the Planning Board about technical aspects of the plan.
"Once that is done, I think they will be ready for a fall Town Meeting on this matter," she said. "I believe waiting until the next annual Town Meeting would introduce unnecessary delay and could provide for missed opportunities as this industry takes off in Massachusetts."