DRACUT -- Nearly four dozen Dracut residents and business owners came out on a snowy night to express strong and sometimes vocal objections to a planned marijuana cultivation, processing and retail facility at 145 Broadway Road.
Most of the concerns voiced at Tuesday night's session were over traffic congestion on Broadway Road, especially near its intersection with Arlington and Willard streets, as well as the possibility of New Hampshire traffic coming from Interstate 93 and driving straight from Methuen into Dracut via Route 113.
Those in attendance peppered Lazy River CEO William Cassotis with questions about the impact of any extra traffic on their lives.
"Traffic is already bad. It's a pre-existing condition," said one town resident.
The proposed Lazy River facility would be located in an industrial building that once housed Toupin Electric. It stands at the rear of a three-building property. If all goes according to plan, it will open in June 2020.
The other two buildings house small businesses including a dog-grooming shop, a yoga studio, a karate studio and a computer-repair enterprise. Once owned by the Toupin family, the buildings are now the property of Stilian Electrical Contracting of Georgetown.
The audience at this community meeting, held just a few miles away at the Broadway Road American Legion, heard Cassotis present details of the proposed operation.
Cassotis, of Windham, N.H.
"I can feel this (traffic congestion) is a big sticking point," Cassotis said. "We will put in shuttle service from day one if that is the consensus. I will make that commitment."
Lazy River is in negotiations with the American Legion to provide satellite parking at least in the first weeks of business. Lazy River will also consider police details. "We're taking this opportunity very seriously. We're ready for the challenge," he said
Stephanie Fantini, who owns Katz and Dogs at 145 Broadway Road, complained that none of the businesses were notified of the meeting. Others in the room said they also had not been notified. Cassotis said he was surprised, but he would "personally walk into each business to introduce himself" on Wednesday. She said she is not opposed to marijuana businesses "but just not here."
Approached by The Sun on Wednesday morning, other tenants on the property were unwilling to speak because of their leases.
Traffic congestion was not the only concern attendees of the outreach meeting had. Paul Mcintosh, who is involved in many youth activities at Veterans Memorial Park, worried that Lazy River's product could too easily fall into young hands simply through inappropriate disposal of vaping equipment or edibles.
Cassotis' presentation included an overview of the cultivation and packaging process that will be housed in 13,500 square feet on the second floor of the building. The process includes stringent "seed to sale" tracking of the product as it moves through the plant into the retail operation. This is intended to prevent diversion of the product into the wrong hands.
A resident of Florry Road, which abuts the Broadway Road property, asked that the town consider that the proposed facility, while in an industrial zone, actually backs up into a residential zone.
Town law requires that marijuana facilities be located in industrial zones. The fact that an industrial zone brushes against a residential zone cannot be helped, Town Manager Jim Duggan explained.
"We are a 'yes' town," Duggan said. Voters at Dracut Town Meeting in November 2017, in fact, rejected an effort to put a temporary hold on setting up retail marijuana operations in town. In June 2018, voters approved the set of bylaws that will now govern these businesses.
Duggan told the residents that the town will tax each sale at 3 percent of cost for at least the first five years. Right now, the state has put a sunset provision on taxes that expires after five years. He is hoping that the state Legislature will lift that restriction.
Lazy River will employ at least 40 people, 20 of whom must be Dracut residents, Duggan said.
Duggan said he is impressed by "every component of the operation."
Also at the meeting were Selectmen Chairman Jesse Forcier, Joe DiRocco and Tony Archinski. DiRocco and Archinski urged the residents to attend the public hearing, as yet to be scheduled, on Lazy River's application for a special permit.
Forcier said he will suggest selectmen add a condition to the special permit requiring Lazy River to come before the board within six months to assess how things are going. He said this should be required of any marijuana business, including Green Star Herbals which has already submitted its application for a special permit.