CANAJOHARIE — Part of the Exit 29 site may grow into an adult-use cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility.
During the meeting Tuesday of the Montgomery County Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee, officials advanced a funded exclusive development option agreement with E29 Labs for 19.6 acres — the cleared eastern portion — of the Exit 29 site. The legislature is expected to vote on the agreement at its next meeting.
The agreement made Tuesday will convert to a purchase-and-sale agreement pending the completion of a 12-month due diligence period by E29 Labs.
The three-phase project is expected to take between 7-10 years to complete. with part-owner and E29 Labs Vice President Michael Dundas noting with the state’s cannabis legalization legislation being brand new, delays in the regulatory process are expected.
The E29 Labs team consists of Dundas, President Sheldon Roberts, and Chief Executive Officer Shelley Roberts.
Dundas, an entrepreneur and attorney in the legal cannabis sector, said he founded Sira Naturals in 2013, growing it into one of the largest vertically integrated cannabis organizations in Massachusetts.
Dundas said at the tail end of his time with Sira Naturals, which was sold in 2019, he met the Roberts siblings at a convention in Las Vegas.
Sheldon and Shelley — a property management specialist and an entrepreneur, respectively — first laid eyes on the Exit 29 site, which is the former Beech-Nut facility, when visiting Canajoharie with the goal of purchasing property to start a hemp farm.
Sheldon said he and his sister “instantly fell in love” with the area’s quaintness and beauty.
Upon visiting the site, Dundas said, “”long story short, we’re here working as partners.”
All three individuals will work full time to bring their vision of creating an adult-use cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility at the site to life.
“Being a part of the community, the first instinct is always to make it a better community,” Sheldon said, regarding the team’s goals.
County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the E29 Labs team understand the importance of the site to Canajoharie and the county.
Dundas said the process for the business will be guided by the statutory and regulatory timeline the state eventually sets. He said that typically, once the ball gets rolling on a statewide cannabis legalization effort, regulatory bodies will be assembled at the state level over a 3 to 6 month period. Those bodies will create regulations that will dictate rules for a statewide cannabis program and licensure process. When that is complete, Dundas said, a specific timeline for development of the eastern portion of the Exit 29 site will become clear.
Dundas said they would like to have an application submitted to the state by January 2022. He said E29 Labs will be “lucky” to receive licensure in 12 to 13 months, with each phase of the project potentially taking several years.
Based on past experience, Dundas said, upwards of 500 union jobs could potentially be created throughout the project’s three phases, with 150 being created in phase one and that number doubling in phase two.
County Executive Matthew Ossenfort reminded everyone of the work that has gone into the Exit 29 site, which involved a task-force of shareholders weighing in for years, environmental studies, and millions of dollars of remediation.
“Along this journey, we really have come together as a group, as a team, with the common goal of trying to bring back some hope and some positivity to the village of Canajoharie, but also create a project that will be beneficial not only for the county, but for the region,” Ossenfort said.
Canajoharie property owner Matthew Downs thanked E29 Labs for making the decision to launch the project in an area that will be significantly aided by it, saying, “This will make such an impact on our community.”
“That’s part of the story,” responded Dundas.
He said transparency is important to E29 Labs, something he learned on successful projects, and will remain important throughout the years-long process.
“Any concerns or questions, knock on our door and we’ll answer,” he said.
Janet Lee Stanley, owner of Lee’s Shops at Wagner Square and the Canajoharie-Palatine Bridge Chamber of Commerce president, said she teared up when viewing a rendering of the proposed Exit 29 facility.
“This is going to make downtown better,” she said.
The marijuana producer could help turn the village into a true tourist attraction, Stanley said.
Canajoharie Mayor Jeff Baker said village officials are looking forward to the project getting underway. A meeting to give the public more information will be held in the village within the next month-or-so, he said.
Meetings will also soon take place between E29 Labs and village officials, he said, with discussions detailing issues such as potential water usage.
Ossenfort said the county will continue to work at remediating the western portion of the former Beech-Nut site, which includes the standing former office buildings that line Church Street. The county has about $1 million left to apply to that portion of the Exit 29 site.