Andover residents criticize proposed pot farm Applicant's proposal barely gets a hearing

ZBA chair Joe Fromberger, standing, addresses the crowd before the hearing formally begins.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The potential for a lot of cannabis growing in their backyard drew more than 70 people in Andover to Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on a proposal to build up to four 24- by 96-foot greenhouses high up in the hills east of Terrible Mountain.

The applicant, Dustin Sherman, is hoping to set up a cannabis growing operation, which could end up being one of the largest in the state at almost 10,000-square-feet of space. But the details of his plan were not clear, even at the end of the 90-minute hearing since Sherman was not asked to make a presentation and almost the entirety of the hearing was turned over to public comment, almost all of it in fervent opposition.

See: Cannabis grower addresses Andover concerns

ZBA chair Joe Fromberger opened the public hearing by saying that the ZBA was not there to make determinations based on their view of recreational cannabis. Since the entire town is zoned residential, all other approved uses must be “conditional uses” and would require a permit.

He added that the board could address hours of operation, requirements for parking, lighting and several other impacts. He added that the grow operation could not become a retail dispensary. Then, with more than 50 people on Zoom and more than 20 in the audience, Fromberger opened the floor to public comment. And it came fast.

Most said that while they had no problem with legal recreational cannabis, they were concerned about the traffic, water usage and the depletion of the aquifer, water runoff filled with pesticides and other chemicals used in the growing process, bright lights used in the growing operating, the smell and security.

Tony DiGuglielmo, a second homeowner from New York, said he was the closest neighbor to the proposed project and has been coming up here for 40 years. He said his family — children and grandchildren — and their friends having been enjoying the rural charm of the town and now this is “turning everything upside down.” He called the current work a “massive construction project” and claimed that 3 to 4 acres has already been clear-cut – “180,000 square feet for four greenhouses. … where is the site plan? This is an operation coming into a residential area.”

Maura DiGuglielmo, one of a number of the same family who spoke, suggested that the board require an environmental impact report from the applicant.

By allowing this, he said, “you will change the character of this town forever.” When Fromberger tried to move to another speaker, he said, “I have a lifetime of savings here so I hope you will give me more time to speak.” He then spoke about being confronted by no-trespassing signs.

Maura DiGuglielmo, who spoke on Zoom and identified herself at Tony DiGuglielmo’s granddaughter and a part-time adjoining neighbor who works for an engineering company, suggested that “it would be prudent if the town” asked for an environmental impact report. She said she was concerned with discharges of water, the aquifer, endangered species and odor coming from the site.

Resident Chris Haselton, who lives at the top of North Hill Road and is disabled, said that he smokes pot and his VA doctor would love to prescribe it for his nerve pain. “But we don’t need that here. It’s just going to bring other problems … We don’t need that in Andover.”

Julie Tracy, an abutter who has lived in Andover for five years and has children who are 1, 3 and 5, said that as a psychedelic therapist who is pro-medication, “I’m not concerned about cannabis.” But she is concerned about the greenhouses, which she said will change the neighborhood, the agricultural condition and character of Andover. She added that the board needed to protect everyone’s property rights and not just one landowner. She expressed concerned about the aquifer being depleted and affecting her own home, fields and crops and about the possible light pollution from the grow lights. “That is not information we have and we would love Mr. Sherman to address” those issues.

One resident did commend Sherman “for showing up to this hornet’s nest.” Even so, he said that he would “seriously be upset if” such an operation were being planned near his home. He also accused Sherman of creating a hostile environment with a Facebook comment he made.

Virginia DiGuglielmo, who identified herself as Tony DiGuglielmo’s daughter-in-law and a New York State-certified biologist and chemist, said she was concerned about how the project will impact a mature forest residential environment. She also listed: water consumption, pesticides, sound pollution, storage of chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, leaching of those chemicals and disposal of plant refuge. But her biggest concern remains the preservation of the aquifer.

Another resident expressed concerns about security while another said well contamination was an issue.

In one of the few times Sherman was recognized to speak, he answered one resident’s concerns about security and told the group that fencing, security cameras and motion detector lights are all among his plans.

Another resident questioned how the road that used to be Mike’s Way with public access was now private and renamed Sherman Road. Fromberger then turned to Sherman for an answer. Sherman said that his survey showed that it was part of his property and that neighbors have a right of way.  The man then questioned the validity of the survey.  But all concluded that the issue would not be resolved at this meeting.

ZBA member Nick Baker spoke up and wondered why no one had come forward with questions about lighting, water usage, pesticides etc. when a local farm sought a similar permit several years ago.

Dustin Sherman, standing, answers a few questions as the public hearing wraps up.

As the meeting wrapped up, Sherman was given a chance to answer a few direct questions, one concerning lighting. He said he would not be using high-powered grow lights. But that at one point during the growing season, he would need to “get to 18 hours” of lights so that if daylight is 12 hours, he would add six hours of supplemental light.  He added that he intended to use solar power as well.

He also attempted to address some of the concerns about pesticides, chemicals, water use and runoff by saying that he intends to use all organic fertilizers and anything else needed in the growing process, and that he will plant using methods to retain water that will both cut water use and reduce runoff.

At that point, one person on Zoom interrupted, shouting that Sherman should sit down and that she was only allowed to speak for two minutes but Sherman was given 10.

The hearing was then recessed until the next ZBA meeting in July.

Scott Blair, who is in the process of opening up a cannabis retail outlet in Chester, Zoomed in on the meeting out of curiosity. Following the meeting, The Telegraph asked him his view of the proceedings. Blair, who doesn’t know the applicant, said, “I see both sides but without hearing his plans and explanation of his process first, the pitchforks coming at him were unfair. There are solutions for both parties’ concerns, and without proper presentation from the applicant it’s all assumptions.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Victoria Gardner says:

    I wonder when we’re going to bring this much intensity towards alcohol sales… the people want cannabis, the people voted accordingly. These select boards continually stand in the way of what the people ask for & vote for. It’s worse when there are representatives on these boards who are not elected. . .

    Also, Vermont is an American state. Americans are free to move, live, and operate businesses with the appropriate licensing etc where they please in America. That’s freedom in action. The weird, specific, prejudice against Americans who weren’t born in the American state of Vermont is really more of a stumbling block to this state’s progress, which is more often held back by NIMBYism, than anything else. Asking for sidewalks & pedestrian friendly spaces in our community that reduces our dependence on cars does not mean billboards will follow. . .

    It would be cool if some of you focused that energy on building more affordable housing & raising wages would also be a huge help. As costs have risen regardless of wage stagnation, where the livable wage in Vermont is at least 15$ per hour but the state minimum is 13.18, and rising all too slowly for 15 to be feasible in the near future. Cannabis dispensaries & the different tiers of farms for the products are job creators as well. If this business were to fail, that should be up to the free market not refer madness.

  2. Evan Parks says:

    I don’t recall people swinging pitchforks around about Abundance Acres, East Hill Produce farm, Blueberry Hill farm, Popplewood farm, Windswept farm, or any other farming operations in Andover?

    God forbid someone tries to farm in Vermont. Sheesh, get a grip people, it’s a legal, lucrative, crop, which may have shown up just in time to keep our brave little state’s agricultural roots alive.

  3. Raymond Makul says:

    Andover seems to be a patsy for out of state businesses buying up properties in residential areas for non residential use. Dozens of short term rentals, many owned by limited liability corporations, exist without the necessary approvals to make them legal. Until Andover decides to enforce the zoning regulations already on its books, its residents, REAL RESIDENTS, NOT OUT OF STATE SPECILATORS AND BUSINESS OWNERS MASQUERADING AS RESIDENTS, will see their town stolen from them.