Valley Green Grow appeals Charlton Planning Board’s rejection of pot farm

CHARLTON – Valley Green Grow has filed an appeal in land court claiming the Charlton Planning Board was biased when it “unlawfully denied” its plan to develop Charlton Orchards land into a multitenant marijuana growing and processing operation.

The appeal, filed Monday, contends that during its public hearings, the town-hired peer review consultants testified the plan met criteria for approval under the town’s subdivision regulations, without the need for waivers.

The appeal says the decision was not grounded in evidence, and was arbitrary, capricious, and rendered in bad faith.

“The actions of members of the Planning Board, particularly Chair (Patricia) Rydlak, appear to have been undertaken in bad faith and motivated by bias or personal animus,” the appeal said.

The document contains clips of Facebook posts in which Ms. Rydlak expressed opposition to the plan, allegedly before the public hearings began.

Ms. Rydlak said in an interview Tuesday that Valley Green Grow is making unfounded accusations without fact-based evidence.

“Throughout my years on the Planning Board, I have always made decisions with the safety of our residents and our regulations in mind,” she said. “The idea that I would be biased or prejudiced is absurd.”

The Planning Board closed its business with the North Andover company in March with a vote rejecting the plan, which was tied to developing a 1 million-square-foot medical and recreational marijuana growing and processing operation at 44 Old Worcester Road.

Nearly seven months of Planning Board public hearings on the $100 million project to site the largest marijuana growing operation in the country divided residents and town officials into two camps.

A majority of selectmen supported the plan that Town Administrator Robin L. Craver said, at full buildout, would bring the town nearly $35 million in tax revenue, permits and fees, over five years.

Residents rallied and railed, saying it’s too big, and its proximity to homes and schools raises concerns about safety, property values, stormwater management, odor and traffic.

Further, residents argue that state regulations exclude marijuana cultivation from the uses considered agriculture.

The Valley Green Grow definitive subdivision plan and site plan for the 94-acre farm went before the Planning Board. The board unanimously rejected the site plan on Jan. 2, saying the proposed use was light manufacturing and therefore not permitted on land zoned for agriculture.

The decision contradicted the town zoning officer’s opinion, given to Valley Green Grow in March 2018, that the proposed use was agriculture and a permitted use on the orchard land.

The decision led to an appeal in Worcester Superior Court and infighting between the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen as to when and who would be hired to defend the Planning Board decision in court.

The subdivision plan, filed with the town last April, froze the orchard zoning, thereby protecting it from marijuana zoning bylaws later adopted at town meeting. By majority vote, the board rejected the plan on March 6, saying the country road leading to the site was inadequate to support the proposed use and that stormwater management was a concern.

VGG lawyer Michael D. Rosen appealed the March 6 decision in Land Court on Monday. The appeal seeks an annulment of the Planning Board decision, a subdivision plan approval, and reimbursement to Valley Green Grow for its legal costs and fees.

Mr. Rosen said Tuesday the Superior Court appeal will be consolidated in Land Court, where Judge Robert B. Foster will hear both appeals on April 17.

Judge Foster recently ruled in favor of Valley Green Grow in its complaint regarding residents’ attempt to belatedly ban the recreational marijuana segment of the business through a general bylaw adopted at an August town meeting.

Judge Foster said the town had previously regulated recreational marijuana through zoning, and therefore it could not ban it by overriding zoning regulations with a general bylaw.

Judge Foster is also expected to take up a dispute as to whether the state considers marijuana cultivation an allowed use for land zoned agriculture, Mr. Rosen said. He said this question is set for a hearing on June 19.

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