By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD — The former Burlington Homes property on Route 26 has been sold to a group interested in developing the expansive space for the cultivation of recreational marijuana.
The property, which fronts both Main and King streets in Oxford and was owned by Auburn developer George Schott, was sold to 620 Main Street LLC, a domestic limited liability company, which was established late last month.
The new owner, a former Auburn resident, said the building is perfect for cultivating pot – a business that he envisions will become an economic engine and job creator for the Oxford region.
“The building is ideal for indoor recreational marijuana cultivation with its high ceilings and three-phase power,” said Joel Pepin, part of the small team of individuals who purchased the property and the registered agent for 620 Main Street LLC.
Pepin, who grew up in Auburn and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono, and his business partner, Ryan Roy of Turner, a University of Maine- Farmington graduate, are founders of JAR Consulting. Pepin described the business as a full service medical cannabis cultivation consulting company that currently works with a medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts and has more than a half dozen clients operating in Maine, he said.
The company, he said, also assists clients with municipal approval, code enforcement, and personnel safety and other issues, including helping their clients cultivate marijuana that is high quality and free from pesticides, mold, mildew and insects.
Currently medical marijuana caregivers are not required to test medicine for potency and quality, but JAR clients have been testing medicine for more than two years, he said.
The former Burlington Homes building has been vacant for almost nine years. It is located across the street from Record Lumber Company on Route 26 and adjacent to Maine-ly Action Sports at the intersection of King Street.
Schott purchased the plant and land in 2008 on Route 26 for $418,000 during a foreclosure auction that he attended to buy inventory. Pepin has declined to comment on the selling price.
Last August, the Oxford Planning Board approved a change of business use for the building to allow cultivation of medical marijuana.
The approval to use about 50,000 square feet of the 81,100-square-foot building for the marijuana cultivation came on a 4-0 vote with one abstention at the board’s July 14, 2016 meeting. The request was made by Schott, who was then the building owner.
Pepin said his company must find the right investors to assist with the complete overhaul of the building, which involves removing the steel structures Burlington Homes used to manufacture its modular homes.
“This is where we currently are in the process – we’ve had interest from local investors; now we are trying to align ourselves with the right partner(s) for the project,” he said.
Pepin said that under the current zoning and permit approval, cultivation of medical marijuana could begin once the building construction is completed.
If the company operates a recreational cultivation license, Pepin said JAR’s application will have to show the state in its application that the town supports the applicant with any further special permit or zoning approval that may be necessary.
“We would need to continue to work with the town of Oxford to make sure their concerns for such a business have been satisfied, and we would hope and expect that the town would embrace a new professional business that plans on investing heavily into its community,” he said.
Pepin said the company has been very active at the state level lobbying for current medical marijuana laws and has also contributed greatly to the recently passed recreational marijuana referendum in Maine.
Recreational marijuana possession and use is set to become legal for adults age 21 and older on Monday, Jan. 30.
Earlier this month, legislation was introduced that would give policymakers three additional months to develop and implement rules regulating the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The proposal would extend that window until Feb. 1, 2018.
A 17-member special legislative committee is expected to begin meeting shortly to review the dozens of marijuana-related bills.
Pepin said that the proposed three-month delay of the new recreational law could have an impact on the timing of his project and he is urging state legislators to look at the timing of other New England states that are going online with their own recreational marijuana laws, such as Massachusetts, which has legalzied recreational marijuana. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, are all also considering recreational marijuana laws.
“I understand the Legislature has a big responsibility to make sure this is new law is rolled out correctly, and as potential business operators under the new law we also want the proper regulations in place. However, if we take too much time and come online after other states in the Northeast that could be a detriment to the growth of our new industry here in Maine,” Pepin said.
Pepin believes that because of the experienced pool of marijuana business operators and with the state’s strong history of tourism, Maine has a great opportunity to develop a successful new economic engine.
“Based on my industry experience, I think it would be a failure if Maine is not the first state in the Northeast to have regulated recreational adult-use cannabis available to consumers. I believe the nine-month moratorium written into the current law is more than adequate for the Legislature to address any and all issues with the referendum,” he said.
Pepin said he believes there will plenty of room for multiple retail marijuana business operators.
Pepin said that even though there is the possibility of a large-scale recreational marijuana cultivator in the former Harvest Hills Farm in Mechanic Falls, just five miles down the road on Route 26, and probably others, the group is not concerned about nearby competing businesses.
“There already is competition in the marijuana industry. We will continue to focus on our strategic business plan and executing that to the best of our abilities,” he said.
Pepin said his business is staged to succeed in the recreational marijuana business.
“We have spent years researching and developing our method of cultivation,” said Pepin, who described the process as “efficient, productive and most importantly consistent.”
“Producing a clean product that exceeds the strict standards the Massachusetts Department of Public Health originally outlined is why companies have chosen to partner with JAR Consulting in both Massachusetts and Maine,” he said.