The sale of a former industrial site for use as a medical marijuana growing facility will go forward, pending final approval from Benton Harbor officials, the Berrien County Land Bank Authority decided Thursday.
“Big things are happening” with the proposal for the foreclosed and abandoned property at 900 Alreco Road, said Katie Montoya, the county’s assistant director for community development. “We haven’t quite gotten all that we requested.”
That includes a change in Benton Harbor’s zoning that would allow such an operation, and a letter from Benton Harbor’s mayor and/or City Commission indicating they support the sale. The Benton Harbor Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the zoning changes for a medical marijuana facility.
One provision would prohibit such sites within 1,000 feet of a school. The Alreco site is off of Paw Paw Road in the city’s northern section, with few homes in the immediate area. The zoning recommendations will be reviewed by the City Commission, which meets May 7.
The Land Bank chairman received a communication from Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad on March 30 that the required letter of approval would be forwarded, Montoya said.
With those pieces expected to be in place, the Land Bank Authority authorized county staff to begin drafting a purchase agreement for the property with The Harvest Group, which offered $450,000 for the 11-acre site. The sale is to be completed when the documentation from Benton Harbor officials is received.
The county will require a $10,000 non-refundable good faith deposit on the property from the purchaser, which will be used by the county to obtain quiet title to the land. The company will be required to file a Baseline Environmental Assessment with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Permission would also be needed to be obtained from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs for the grow site.
In February the Land Bank Authority reviewed bids for the sale of the former aluminum smelting plant. Along with the Harvest Group offer, Vandelay Industries of Benton Harbor bid $5,000, or $20,000 if the outfit could obtain a “class C” marijuana-growing license, which allows the cultivation of up to 1,500 plants. A third bid to develop and resell the land as a manufacturing site was rejected.
Authority members gave The Harvest Group and Vandelay 60 days to obtain the green light from Benton Harbor. Harvest Group officials visited the Alreco site March 26. Vandelay officials have not provided information to the county, Montoya said. Harvest Group now has another 60 days to complete the transaction.
Michigan legislators in 2016 voted to allow medical marijuana facilities, and they gave local governments the choice to “opt in” to the proposal.
A ballot proposal to legalize the use of recreational marijuana is expected to be on the Michigan ballot this fall. If the measure passes and Harvest Group wants to convert to recreational pot production, it would have to go through the same local approval process as if did for medical marijuana, Montoya said.
The Harvest Group operates medical marijuana growing sites in other states and is now entering the Michigan market. It is proposing for the Benton Harbor property a $5 million investment in start-up costs for cultivation facilities, grow rooms and processing facilities, starting with 35 employees and expanding to 78 workers when the site is fully operational.
The company projects to produce 1,530 pounds of marijuana flower in its first year, expanding to almost 6,000 pounds when the site is completely developed. By year five, the operation could have a gross revenue of $20 million, according to its estimates. Its plans include installing solar panels on the 100,000-square-foot ceiling of the building.
It lists among its investors Joique Bell, a Benton Harbor native and former NFL football player.