OXFORD — The Planning Board has approved a change of business use for the former Burlington Homes 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 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 across from Record Building Supply and next to Maine-ly Action Sports.

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 cultivation area is 150 feet from Route 26, 225 feet from King Street and 260 feet from the nearest residence.

The site will be furnished with security measures, including alarms and cameras monitoring 24 hours a day, and exterior lighting as required by the local zoning code, Lee wrote in his May 23 letter to Smith.

Smith told the Planning Board at its July 14 meeting that Schott has met all of the state standards for a medical marijuana cultivation business. The state mandates cannot be overridden locally, he told them.

Under state law, the cultivation areas must be enclosed and equipped with locks or other security devices 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 — 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, to provide Fire Department access around the facility, to install Fire Department key boxes and to provide 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, the electrical system must meet the National Electrical Code, and all hazardous materials, processes and storage must be identified and adequate safety features must be approved and incorporated.

According to the draft minutes of the July 14 meeting, at least one resident attended 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.

Ordinance changes

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 that 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 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 limited to three, the same as the number of 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.

In April, 14 Oxford voters attended a special town meeting to unanimously approve updates to the 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 section of it to cultivate medical marijuana.

It is unclear whether Schott has an agreement with a grower. Repeated calls to his office were not returned.

Planning Board Chairman Walter Mosher declined to comment on the plan, saying, “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 of the state’s 1,723 registered patients in 2014, according to a report from DHHS’ Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services.

Of the total 2,161 caregivers in the state, 162 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 manufacturing plant

Burlington Homes’ facility has been empty for the past 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 next to Route 121/King Street.

Schott bought the property in 2008 for $418,000 during a foreclosure auction he attended to buy inventory. He bought the real estate at the suggestion of someone at the auction.

He said at the time that he had no idea what he was going to do with the plant but hoped to lease it. He said he preferred to be known as a redeveloper, someone who buys a building and redevelops it, usually in a two-year span.

Burlington Homes was one of several manufacturing plants that closed around 2008. The latest manufactured home venture to go under in Oxford was Keiser Homes on Route 121 earlier this year.

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