The cluster of single-story buildings on Freeport Boulevard used to be the Land Park campus for a private school offering occupational and speech therapy for children with autism.
Capitol Autism Services closed the site a few years ago, but continued offering programs elsewhere in the neighborhood and the Sacramento area. The 7/10 -acre property eventually brimmed with weeds, suffered vandalism and lured homeless campers, according to neighbors.
Now a venture hoping to invest in California’s cannabis economy is seeking a city permit to convert the 7,668-square-foot school – including seven former classrooms, a kitchen and offices – into an indoor facility to grow marijuana and dry and process the harvested buds.
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The scale of the operation – including a request to grow 5,465 square feet of plants – is small when compared to others in California’s burgeoning state-regulated cannabis industry. In contrast, another city-permit applicant is seeking to develop a 12-building, 12-acre southeast Sacramento warehouse complex to lease to multiple businesses each growing up to a maximum of 22,000 square feet of plants.
But news of a potential pot farm in a former school site was an initial shock to the South Land Park Neighborhood Association, representing homeowners in residential communities adjacent to the proposed project.
“Our first impression was ‘What? Convert a school to a cultivation facility? No,’ ” said Brian Ebbert, president of the neighborhood association.
The group has since withheld opposition or endorsement after getting assurances from the applicant that the project will be well-secured and will clean up a property that has become a blight on Freeport Boulevard. The site is located in a commercial district near Sacramento Executive Airport and is surrounded by light industry enterprises, warehouses and auto repair businesses.
Nearby, on 47th Street, there is an existing medical marijuana dispensary, the Florin Wellness Center, which isn’t connected to the proposed project.
The cultivation venture applicant, Margaret Sharkey, is a retired dentist from the San Francisco Bay Area. She says she started to explore opportunities in the cannabis industry after seeing her ill mother-in-law boost her appetite, stave off weight loss and find relief from pain by consuming low doses of medical marijuana edibles.
Sharkey, part of a group that would lease the school facility from the owner who purchased the school property, claimed the venture will be a positive presence in the community. The city permit application listed the name of the business as Herbal Velocity.
“This was a private facility for autistic children that closed years ago,” Sharkey said. “The building has been abandoned and had been on the market for years. It was a magnet for dumping and homeless encampments. ... I’ve reached out to many adjacent business owners and they’re actually happy to see improved stewardship of the building.”
More than 600 feet from the site is a preschool called Kinder World. Sacramento city rules, and state law, require that marijuana facilities be more than 600 feet from schools. An official for Kinder World declined comment on the proposed project, other than to say she wanted more information about it.
Sharkey said the business only will grow marijuana, not manufacture concentrates or other cannabis products or use volatile solvents. She also said there won’t be any signage or walk-in traffic, “no sales and no cash business,” and the venture would meet meticulous city security requirements.
Properties around California are being repurposed for the industrial cultivation of marijuana, in places including the Salinas Valley and certain desert communities in Southern California. A former prison facility in Coalinga recently was converted into a processing center for marijuana concentrates.
Representatives for Herbal Velocity and the neighborhood association have scheduled a community meeting on the proposal for 6:30 p.m. June 1 at the Belle Cooledge Library (5600 South Land Park Drive).
Ebbert said the former school site, “at an odd location on a major thoroughfare,” had indeed become “unkempt” and “there has been vandalism and trespassing.” Still, he said, many members of the association board were concerned over the cultivation idea.
“Right now, our board is just gathering information,” Ebbert said. “We did an initial poll and it was definitely opposition but with a caveat: ‘Let’s get more information.’ ”