By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD — The Oxford Planning Board has approved a change of business use for the former Burlington Home plant on Route 26 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 meeting. The request was made by building owner and well-known Auburn developer George P. Schott of Nobility LLC.
The building, which has been vacant for about eight years, 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.
According to information provided to the Planning Board and Code Enforcement Officer Rodney Smith from Schott and his associate David Lee, general manager of the Auburn Mall, which is owned by Schott, the actual cultivation area is located 150 feet from Main Street (Route 26) and 225 from King Street and 260 feet from the nearest residence.
The site will be furnished with security measures, including alarms and cameras, monitoring the site 24 hours a day, and exterior lighting as required by the local zoning code, said Lee in his May 23 letter to Smith.
Smith told the Planning Board at its July 14 meeting that Schott has met all the state standards for medical marijuana cultivation business. The state mandates can not be overrode at the local level, he told them.
Under state law, the cultivation areas must be enclosed and equipped with locks or other security devises that permit access only by an individual authorized to cultivate the marijuana.
If there is an enclosed outdoor area, state law requires a privacy fence at least 6 feet high – or higher if mandated by local ordinance – that obscures the view of the marijuana to discourage theft and unauthorized intrusion.
Additionally, the operation must adhere to recommendations made by Oxford Fire Chief Wayne Jones to address certain fire protection features.
Jones said the owner has been asked to install a monitored fire protection sprinkler system throughout the complex, provide for Fire Department access (around the facility), install Fire Department key boxes and provide for fire protection water supplies.
Jones said the Fire Department has also requested that means of egress, wall and ceiling finishes and fire separation walls must be designed and constructed to meet building and fire codes, electrical system must meet the National Electrical Code, and all hazardous materials, processes and storage must be identified and adequate safety features be approved and incorporated.
According to the draft minutes of the July 14 meeting, at least one resident appeared at the meeting and expressed concern about the operation. He also questioned why there was no public hearing.
Officials told the resident that no public hearing was necessary for approval. A public hearing had been held earlier this year when changes were made to the town’s Zoning Ordinance that affected medical marijuana cultivation businesses in town.
In January 2016, former Town Manager Michael Chammings was instructed to update the Medical Marijuana Ordinance after a committee reviewed it and said the ordinance did not comply with state law. Chammings said at the time the changes would include reducing the prohibited zone for marijuana grow operations near a public or private school from 1,000 feet to 500 feet in order to meet state requirements.
Changes also restricted medical marijuana grow facilities to a mixed-use zone, which Chammings said at the time would essentially limit them to the Route 26 corridor. The number of grow facilities was also limited to three – the same as the number liquor stores allowed in Oxford.
The ordinance regulates grow operations that are large enough to be required to register with the town. It does not include individuals with medical marijuana permits or caregiver licenses but does include certain types of grow operations that produce larger amounts of marijuana to supply various dispensaries around the state.
A public hearing was held on the ordinance changes earlier this year.
In April, 14 Oxford voters showed up at a special town meeting to unanimously approve updates to the town’s Zoning Ordinance that affected medical marijuana cultivation business in town.
By the end of April, Schott wrote a letter to the Planning Board informing members that he would like a change of use approved for the former Burlington Homes plant so he could use a portion of it to cultivate medical marijuana.
It is unclear whether Schott currently has an agreement with a grower. Repeated calls to his office were not returned.
Planning Board Chairman Walter Moscher declined to comment on the plan, telling the Advertiser Democrat, “I”m not going to tell you anything.”
Town Manager Derik Goodine said he did not hear any feedback from the public.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999, but the state only set up a system to sell it after a referendum vote in 2009. The Medical Marijuana program is administered by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Oxford County had 93 registered patients in 2014 of the 1,723 registered statewide, according to a report from the DHHS, division of licensing and regulatory services on the Maine Medical Marijuana program.
Of the total 2,161 caregivers in the state, 162 caregivers were registered in Oxford County in 2014, according to DHHS. Of the 43 medical providers registered in the state in 2014, Oxford County had one.
Medical marijuana sales at Maine’s eight dispensaries were up 46 percent between 2014 and 2015 to $23.6 million, according to figures released by the state in January.
Former building plant
The Oxford site has been empty over the last eight years except for temporary uses such as the recent staging area for the Route 26 sewer project where gravel and equipment is being stored in the back land on King Street.
Schott purchased the former Burlington Homes plant and land in 2008 on Route 26 for $418,000 during a foreclosure auction that he attended to buy inventory. He bought the real estate at the suggestion of someone attending the auction.
He told the Sun Journal at the time that he had no idea what he was going to do with the plant but hoped to lease it out. He said at that time that he preferred to be known as a re-developer -someone who buys a building and redevelops it, usually in a two-year span.
Burlington Homes was one of several manufacturing plant closings around 2008. The latest manufactured home venture to go under in Oxford was Keiser Homes, which closed earlier this year.