SHEFFIELD — Voters at a special town meeting Monday capped the number of outdoor pot cultivators allowed in town at five, closing the door to new farms.
Except, the town actually has six, all now grandfathered and exempt from the new zoning bylaws.
With a 184-37 tally on a vote that required a two-thirds majority, residents pushed back on the notion that their town would be a future target for more outdoor cannabis growers than the six facilities already operating.
In 2019, the town already had limited pot shops to three, which now leaves room for one more.
Commercial farms currently operating are Theory Wellness, Nova Farms, Canna Provisions, Ten-Ten Craft Cannabis and Berkshire Welco, parent company of The Pass, which has two outdoor facilities.
Resident Tammy Pipa, who worked on scuttling grower Wiseacre Farm’s plans for a Bull Hill Road site in Ashley Falls, said residents are relieved by the new limit.
“Now, we can breathe a bit easier,” she said of the battle to stop more cultivators from coming to Sheffield. “Hopefully, this will help the town to settle a bit.”
A resident who lives near that Bull Hill site said the issue has broader ramifications about the vulnerability of citizens, and the power of participation.
“People should educate themselves on the issues and understand the impact,” Sally MacKenzie said. And like residents and town officials across South County, Sheffield also didn’t anticipate the impact of legal pot, she added.
“You find out over time that things need to be adjusted and modified,” she said. “We’re hoping this is the end of it.”
Jon Piasecki, principal of Wiseacre Farm, said that while he thinks it folly for the town to clamp down, at a loss to future revenue and employers, he shares the passion for local control.
“It’s the citizens rising up to do what they want, and I appreciate that,” he said, noting how mild the impact of pot farming is, compared with other farms here that are “constantly spreading manure,” and the numerous health benefits of cannabis.
A citizens petition with more than 200 signatures sparked the meeting, attended by 225 voters — more than twice the attendance at annual town meeting last month. The meeting came more than two months after residents of an Ashley Falls neighborhood fought two permits for top-tier commercial grow farms, which the Planning Board denied. One of those was for Wiseacre.
Yet, towns also are weighing the potential for much-needed revenue; in Sheffield’s case, that is $579,240 total since the first company began operating in 2019.
The town is one of several in South County whose residents have mounted campaigns against commercial growers trying to stake land anywhere near homes. Fear of marijuana odors often tops the list of concerns.
At the meeting, some residents who live near one of Berkshire Welco’s facilities complained about just that. One town official later said that while Town Hall has not yet received any complaints, officials will be looking into how to compel these grandfathered-in growers to control any problems.
“It will be addressed very soon,” said Select Board Chairwoman Rene Wood, who added that the board has spoken to Welco CEO Christopher Weld.
Wood said there are several potential avenues to compliance that include filing nuisance complaints with the Board of Health and combing through what growers have promised in community outreach meetings or in host community agreements.
Wood herself lives near one of the farms and sometimes can smell it.
“It doesn’t bother me, but I know people are sensitive,” she said.