CANAJOHARIE — E29 Labs has cleared another hurdle in its plans to transform a post-industrial eyesore into a new cannabis plant.
Site plans for a 65,000-square-foot building, a new 50,000-square-foot cultivation and education center and a proposed three-acre solar array in Canajoharie were recently greenlit by county and village officials.
Should E29 Labs receive an industrial cultivation license by the fall — months after the state is expected to open up an official licensing process, construction can commence by year’s end.
“Now they’ll have to engage in the process of getting their state licenses, design plans, obtaining any other permits or approvals required,” said Mary Beth Bianconi, a partner at village consulting firm Delaware Engineering, D.P.C. “There were some conditions with respect to the local approvals of things like water and sewer; they need a stormwater plan.”
“The ball is now in their court,” she continued.
In 2021, Montgomery County authorized a purchase-and-sale agreement for E29 Labs to occupy 19.6 acres of the long-neglected home of the former Beech-Nut baby food plant property. County officials had spent years trying to make the old factory grounds suitable for revitalization.
“We are pleased it has passed the local approval phase and are just waiting on the state application process,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, in a statement. “E29 Labs has been a great partner and we look forward to continue working with them throughout the entirety of this project.”
E29’s President Sheldon Roberts, his sister, CEO Shelley Roberts and Vice President Michael Dondas entered the project’s planning phase two years ago in order to get ahead of competitors within the newly legal pot market. Sheldon told the Recorder last month that the move could jeopardize “money out of my personal pocket” if E29 Labs doesn’t get licensed.
E29 Labs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
If completed, the plant would support three shifts and upwards of 500 union jobs by its seventh year in business. Last year, the group created partnership programs with Fulton-Montgomery Community College in hopes of creating a workforce development pipeline for the emerging cannabis industry.
Beech-Nut was once a robust economic anchor for the western Montgomery County village, supplying jobs for more than a century before phasing operations to the town of Florida from 2010 to 2013.
Looking through a Beech-Nut centennial yearbook from 1991 recently, 31-year-old village of Nelliston resident Eddie Watt saw that the company listed the children of plant employees. They no longer live in town, he said.
“One of the things I just wanted to know was the importance of creating something that’s going to keep young people here,” Watt said. “Encourage more people to come here and to just note that progress begets more progress.”
On the prospective facility’s 8-foot wall, village Planning Board Chair Kylie Ferguson hopes to open up space for a mural in homage to the old economic engine.
The former Beech-Nut factory encompassed 26.9 acres. The western 7.9-acre portion, currently home to 22 derelict buildings, will be demolished by the fall for private development.
“It’s kind of nostalgic to see it come down, but we know it can’t be saved,” said Jay Summerson, 80, a former gum maker during the 1960s. “It’s just the way it is.”
Summerson remembers jobs dispersed throughout the region when bag manufacturer Arkell and Smith left Canajoharie for Fort Edward in the late 1950s. A number of manufacturing jobs in Canajoharie are still based out of the Richardson Brands’ candy plant on Erie Boulevard.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at [email protected] or @TylerAMcNeil. Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.
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