Criticism grows over plan for downtown Rockland pot business

By Stephen Betts | Apr 04, 2018
Photo by: Louis Bettcher The Rockland Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing for May 1 on the marijuana processing facility at 500 Main St. proposed by Nick Westervelt.

Rockland — A proposed medical marijuana-processing business in a former downtown Rockland church is being met with concerns by neighbors.

The Rockland Planning Board held its first review Tuesday evening, April 3, on the proposal by Nick Westervelt of Westervelt Provisions LLC.

The board found the application incomplete, Rockland Code Officer John Root said Wednesday morning.

The board is scheduled to continue its review Tuesday, May 1, when a formal public hearing will be held. The meeting is scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m.

At the April 3 meeting, several people voiced concern about the business and others sent letters to the city.

David Theriault, who has a dental office on adjacent Summer Street, said the city should not allow marijuana to be grown and sold on Main Street. He said Rockland has been working to make the downtown better for the past three decades and this would go against that change.

He said the marijuana business would not have adequate parking and would affect the neighborhood.

Michael Sabatini, who owns property adjacent to the former First Baptist Church at 500 Main St., where the marijuana business is proposed to operate, said that marijuana processing falls into the light industrial category, and that it was a mistake to have light industrial in the downtown.

Both Sabitini and Theriault also criticized the lack of upkeep of the building, which is used for storage of antiques.

Colin Grierson, president of the Rockland Masonic Temple Corp. which owns and uses a nearby Main Street building, sent a letter to the Planning Board.

"I feel that a marijuana facility a few doors down from the temple could adversely affect the property values, as no one will want to set up a legal business next to one of these facilities," Grierson stated in his March 30 letter.

He said he was concerned about whether the Masonic Temple would be able to find tenants for its rental space, noting it has had tenants since 1941.

"I worry about the safety of our members and tenants, since the chance of people already impaired would greatly increase," Grierson stated.

He also expressed concern about the lack of public parking in that area of the downtown.

Pat O'Brien of Fiore Artisan Oils and Vinegars and Andrew Dailey of Sidecountry Sports spoke at the meeting to say they wanted to get more information on the project. Both operate businesses across Main Street from the site of the proposed marijuana-processing business.

Deborah Morrison also sent a letter to the city asking whether the property would eventually have a marijuana bar on site and how that would be regulated, in terms of odor and hours of operation.

In February, the Rockland City Council approved an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana production facilities in Rockland

Westervelt has said in a news release following the submission of his application last month to the Code Enforcement Office that the business would benefit Rockland and that section of the downtown.

“This building has been a bit of an eyesore in the heart of downtown Rockland for years,” Westervelt said in the news release. “I’m hoping the community will welcome a thriving business there that will revitalize the building and give Rockland another boost.”

He also plans to have a glass studio.

In the news release, Westervelt said the plan is to "bring a new, vibrant business to a drab block of the city, and contribute further to a rising financial tide for Rockland and Maine that is inevitable with increasing marijuana sales."

On Wednesday, Westervelt responded to the concerns expressed.

"I have to say I have no apologies for adding a business that will hopefully increase traffic on Main Street, or the fact that more cars will be parking in the area; revitalizing the downtown district seems like a net positive. The solution to increased traffic isn't pushing businesses away, it's building a parking garage," Westervelt said.

"This industry is going to be great for Maine: In 2015, marijuana brought in $129 million in tax revenue in Colorado, and $220 million in Washington.  I’m rejuvenating a huge, underutilized corner in the heart of Rockland, shuttered since the 1990s," he said.

The 500 Main St. building has been used both as a residence and as storage for Pasternak Antiques. Jerry and Patty Pasternak bought the former First Baptist Church in 2004. Jerry Pasternak died in January at the age of 63.

His son, Jeremiah Pasternak, is listed as the owner of the property on the application. Westervelt would lease the property through his company, Westervelt Provisions LLC.

Westervelt, who will operate the facility, came before the Rockland City Council in June 2017 to express an interest in operating a marijuana-processing facility at the former Schofield's Home Furnishing Center at 104 Park St.

That project never moved forward. When asked at that June 2017 meeting whether he would sell marijuana at retail from the Park Street location when it became legal, Westervelt said that was a discussion for another time.

The application filed with the city code office for 500 Main St. by Westervelt points out that there will be significant security installed, including surveillance cameras. There will be "closed loop HVAC systems in each grow room, as well as carbon filters," according to the application.

All marijuana-related waste will be shredded and mixed with toxic substances, such as paint or bleach, before being taken to the dump by the facility's staff, according to the application.

Rockland Main Street Inc. conducted a survey in the fall of 2016 in which nearly half the people responding said they did not want a marijuana store in downtown Rockland. The results were 89 opposed, 78 in support and 29 saying maybe. When asked how they felt about a marijuana store being located elsewhere in Rockland, there was more support, with 96 in favor, 60 opposed and 39 saying maybe.

The Maine Legislature is still working on legislation to allow retail marijuana.

Comments (13)
Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Apr 10, 2018 15:16

There's a big difference between a dispensary and a processing facility. Here in Colorado, for the most part, our dispensaries, or retail stores, can be located in a downtown area, but the processing facilities or grow facilities are often further out. There are exceptions to that rule, but it's generally the case.

A question about this location might be how the developer would meet security requirements, and what requirements would need to be met? Are the same requirements for other processing facilities (both in Maine or in any other state) going to be put in place on Main Street?

You might want to study Colorado's laws concerning where processing facilities are placed, though most law is locally-based. The placement and fees associated with processing facilities, dispensaries, and growing operations do vary according to the community out here, but it's REALLY worth the council putting some serious effort into sitting down with a stack of local ordinances from out here and working through them from a policy standpoint and asking the question, "does this work for us, and if not, what would?"

If the council has not had time to study existing precedent in other states, I would suggest that some studying needs to be done. Contract zoning often happens quickly based on a perceived "gotta get it done" need, but the longer range sustainable approach may be to work through the process. Take the time it takes to hear from everyone, study existing laws and ordinances and zoning regulations in other states where legalization has occurred, and then make a good decision for Rockland based on fact and on needs.

Love from Colorado

Lizzie



Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Apr 06, 2018 23:00

The nation, our state, and our mid-coast area is experiencing an opioid crisis brought to us by pharmaceuticals - in particular Perdue - and over-prescribing by physicians. States with medical marijuana dispensaries saw the greatest decrease in opioid prescriptions. Fewer opioid prescriptions = fewer deaths from opioid overdoses. Medical marijuana is not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Out-of-pocket opioid prescriptions are about $10 while medical marijuana is about $6. Our communities should be terrified about fentanyl - not medical marijuana. Our communities should also be compassionate and not view the disease of opioid addiction as some sort of character flaw.



Posted by: Sandra Schramm | Apr 05, 2018 22:59

The applicant in question was discussed and he was present at a Council meeting. A person with firsthand knowledge and who furnished photos on the cleanliness of his last operation made the presentation so this is not a character attack by me. His operation that was planned for Park St. would have been close to my home and I was provided information that was verified. The Council meeting was televised and Amy was present. The last two business enterprises in rented buildings ended poorly for the owner’s of the properties. It is no secret his medical marijuana interest is because he is hoping that the Legislature will pass the recreational portion of the bill. Do we need a "pot parlor" on Main Street?  If this is truly about medical marijuana being dispensed it does make sense to have much more available parking and not take spaces from other businesses in an already compact area.  Amy Files did suggest to me that a growing facility would be more properly suited were it at the former J.C. Penney location. Commercial farming is not allowed in our downtown zone. Does this building meet fire code for when recreational pot is allowed? Will it require sprinklers as the church building is very old? Is the electrical system adequate for the growing operation? Will an establishment be able to sell recreational marijuana and alcohol?

I am not attempting to deny people their medical use of marijuana. I do believe that until police are provided testing equipment to test for driving infractions, recreational use and parlors should not be allowed.  This readily available recreational pot would be going into homes, some with children, and just like kids get their hands onto Mom and Dad's meds or alcohol, this is placing children at risk.  We are fighting an addiction crisis in the Midcoast area and throughout our Nation. So, the adage that it is not habit forming is just not true. It may not be addictive for everyone but certainly it is to many. It is known to be a replacement for anti-anxiety drugs that in this are area are now almost impossible to get due to addiction. Is pot a better option than BIG PHARMA, we shall wait and see. With all the strains of pot being developed and some much stronger, there is no way to control all of the negatives to come. Just as the new vapor cigarette that contains formaldehyde and reported to be much stronger than cigarettes are attractive to teens, the Nation may be in for its next big dilemma. Chemicals are chemicals no matter how they are formulated or ingested.

As to medical marijuana I would urge people to choose their suppliers carefully. Some dispensaries will not be carefully inspected as the State has not the manpower. As to the millions in tax dollars from such establishments, "all that glitters is not gold". Lots of money is made in some states on another addiction, gambling, and that makes a lot of money but also creates a lot of craziness and heart ache.  It is sounding like we have a marijuana crisis in Rockland with a very large number requiring medical pot. Those cards are very easy to get so why do we need recreational pot parlors? Get your card and go to a dispensary and hopefully home. As you can see, the big box Pharmacies in the area like large corner lots with a great deal of parking!  The medical dispensaries for those in need should be allowed. I am not reading that anyone disagrees with that aspect of the discussion.

There is a saying, “if you cannot control it, tax it”! The tax will go to the State of Maine and to date our State Sales Tax is not returned to the municipality. The State has not confirmed they will share any of the 20% reported to be the tax. As quoted, Colorado is making a lot of tax money but it still only added an overall 1% to Colorado’s State budget. Consider the cost of licensing these dispensaries and parlors as well as inspections and police etc. etc.. Colorado is having many issues as well. A 2016 report states that since legalization, related murders have risen, more calls on children ingesting it to poison control and increased emergency room visits from the reaction to marijuana ingestion, many attributed to tourists in Colorado to experience the attraction. There is no way yet to test & determine how many auto or work related accidents are related to recreational pot use. But on the bright side, State costs for incarceration for possession are down!

I hope that everyone can continue to have this discussion sharing what they feel best for the community and not attacking each other. There are many valid reasons the Legislature has not acted on this bill as of yet. There are valid reasons for using medical marijuana. Then there is the recreational side of the use of marijuana. "When done responsibly" being the emphasis.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Apr 05, 2018 18:15

Seriously,

Children get a very bad impression seeing drunk people get in fights and walking around town drunk.  Give me other excuse.  Yes, I have to agree that with Sandra doing her homework, this is just not the person that we should have on Main Street running this kind of business.

I am not against a marijuana business coming into Rockland.  Bars are far more concerning than smoking pot.  Can anyone tell me that they know of someone they know or read about has been pulled over for "Stoned" driving.

I told my girls when they were in their late teens, " I would rather have you smoke pot, which calms you down and makes you mellow, than drink."  See, I lost my mother to a drunk driver when I was 6 months old.  The drunk driver, my father.



Posted by: Amy Files | Apr 05, 2018 11:37

Steve - I am confused at your suggestion that medical marijuana is somehow related to a strip club. People with medical marijuana cards have diseases like cancer, debilitating pain, etc. Are you suggesting they are part of some seedy community that should be banished from Main Street ?

I didn't not see a whole lot of "facts" listed in Sandra's comments - rather I see a character attack on the business owner and more fear mongering about how the acceptance that adults can legally and responsibly use marijuana will result in children using it.

Initial research has shown that legalizing marijuana leads to a decrease in opiate abuse because patients have a safer alternative to pain medications. That is a fact.

Another fact is that when you legalize something, you discourage its sale on the black market and so are better able to legislate it, controlling who can purchase it, and tax it.

I would argue that a well-regulated substance is easier to keep out of the hands of children than one that is so easily accessible on the black market.



Posted by: johanna stadler | Apr 05, 2018 09:51

Oh I know, let's just put another art gallery int here.  It will make the downtown yet so much more viable.  You know the voters voted for this.  It's time to make it happen, and stop the politics.



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Apr 05, 2018 08:24

I read this article and sensed the concern was directed  more ,toward the "location" being bad for parking and the adverse affects such a business would have to surrounding stores.  Strip clubs make money and help the economy, but would you want one located next to your business ?  This is very much like the Methadone clinic issue. Many thought it necessary, but not in my neighborhood. Maybe if it was located in the industrial park, it would not cause such a stir. Also Amy it appears Sandra has done her homework and you need to do a bit more research.  You know, " never let facts interfere with a good story"



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Apr 05, 2018 08:24

I read this article and sensed the concern was directed  more ,toward the "location" being bad for parking and the adverse affects such a business would have to surrounding stores.  Strip clubs make money and help the economy, but would you want one located next to your business ?  This is very much like the Methadone clinic issue. Many thought it necessary, but not in my neighborhood. Maybe if it was located in the industrial park, it would not cause such a stir. Also Amy it appears Sandra has done her homework and you need to do a bit more research.  You know, " never let facts interfere with a good story"



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Apr 05, 2018 08:16

Taxes. The Masonic Temple only has taxes assessed for the rental part of it. The value of that building is nil until major upgrades are made beyond their reach. For them to complain when they use the building on in a blue moon is like asking the ferry terminal to move for the view. As for other businesses I think it is fine to voice concerns because we all know the city will do just as the tree huggers want.



Posted by: Heidi Ruth Locke | Apr 05, 2018 06:49

It’s about time! The State election was held and the majority has spoken! Democracy in action.

It is ridiculous to have to drive to Gardiner, just to purchase much needed meditation! We are not criminals or drug addicts! Much like many of the respondents to this article have inferred. Many people are doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, business owners and upstanding people in the community. Believe it or not! It is true.

More people are killed or abused by drunks than people using marijuana. Are we going to close all the bars, restaurants etc...? I think not.

The folks so against it, have not suffered from PTSD, eating disorders, chronic pain, glaucoma, cancer etc... They truly can’t relate to these debilitating disabilities, so think before you speak!

Please try to become educated about the “miracle drug”.  No it is not killing anyone! Drunks and opioid addiction does!

Oxycodone is killing people!! No Pot! Wake up and help people for once, stop thinking of yourself and your narrow minded views!

Also, last but not least, this business work be paying taxes in Rockland, something the non-profits do no!



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Apr 04, 2018 17:16

Alcohol does as much or not more destruction to society and leads to opioid use as much as marijuana. People use alcohol, be it beer, wine or hard liquor, to relax themselves, celebrate or whatever so using marijuana isn't any worse in my opinion. Living on South Main street there are not many weekend nights that inebriated people don't wake me with their actions. As long as they leave my property alone I can live with it. A few potheads added to the mix probably won't making living here less tolerable.

 

 

 



Posted by: Sandra Schramm | Apr 04, 2018 13:44

When Mr. Westervelt wanted to place his operation on Park St. a lot of information came out about at the Rockland City Council meeting as to how he runs a business. It was not something we would want to happen on Maine Street. It surely seems the rational is that he wants to be prepared if the Legislature passes having marijuana bars. The times they are a changing, but the impression presented on his operating standards and his financial history make me wonder why this would be placed on Main Street. I have seen the photos of the ravaged building of his last operation in Warren and it was unsanitary and he left with without paying his bills according to the owner of the building same as he reportedly did in Gray, Maine.  When you count the towns who have disallowed all or part of the bill before the Legislature I have to wonder why Rockland would vote yes.

 

If adults want to smoke pot, fine.  Children on the other hand will be getting the wrong impression particularly when they see who comes and goes from a recreational marijuana facility.  Do all of you understand what marijuana use does to a child or adolescent's brain?  There is a lot of support for this to happen, particularly within city policy makers, so if you are opposed, better get out there and make some noise.



Posted by: Amy Files | Apr 04, 2018 11:36

It is disappointing to see some of these businesses express concerns regarding a medical marijuana facility in downtown Rockland. People are picking up their medicine -- it's really not that different from having a pharmacy on the corner. With new information being published about the ability for marijuana to help with the opiate crisis in regards to reducing addition, we should be approaching this business with an open mind. Let's not spread misinformation suggesting things like -- customers will be showing up high or "impaired" -- unless you have researched this as being a problem at other locations with similar facilities. I would urge Planning Board members to require some of these speakers to back up their concerns with facts and data. Do these types of business adversely affect property values? That is a concern that should not be suggested unless there is data to back it up: With marijuana businesses opening up in many other locations across the country -- this is the kind of information that can be researched. And if this business, in the future, turns to retail sales, let's remember that a majority of Rockland voters voted to legalize recreational marijuana. It should not be treated any differently than alcohol. It shouldn't be forced to be tucked away in the "darker" corners of our town. We have a wine shop right downtown as well as a Main St. Market that sells beer and wine. We don't worry about those customers showing up drunk to purchase their wine, do we? As for right now, this business will be selling medicine to people. The Planning Board should make sure that the use doesn't create impact in regards to noise and fumes but beyond that let's not fuel arguments against it with unfounded fears and suggestions that marijuana users are some kind of lower-class clientele.

If I were a Main Street business, I would be excited about the fact that a new business will be going into what is otherwise an un-used location, having the potential to activate that end of Main Street. And based on Mr. Westervelt's vision, I would imagine that if he is successful, he will work to improve upkeep of the building.

As for the parking concern -- there is no requirement of downtown businesses to have their own parking. If parking is an issue -- it is a City issue and can't be required of one business owner to solve it when it's not required of any other downtown business owners.

Lastly, the marijuana business in other states who have legalized retail sales is booming. If Rockland chose to embrace it, it would be inviting new industry with the potential to bring with it many millions of dollars in tax revenue as well as potential for 100's of jobs. The industry is relatively low-impact (in regards to pollution, and if properly regulated, noise and fumes). I would much prefer see us embrace this than a heavy industrial polluting industry, in regards to our need for jobs and tax money. If there are genuine concerns based on issues that have resulted in these other states, than we should address them -- but let's not turn our noses to this business based or try and tarnish it based on outdated assumptions about who a marijuana user is and that using marijuana is any different (or worse) than alcohol when done responsibly by adults.



If you wish to comment, please login.