Dr. Brenda Waller, a Lynchburg doctor and hemp farmer in the Nathalie community has been looking for a home for her medical practice as well as a life science research center.
She felt the former Daystrom Furniture building on Greens Folly Road in South Boston could be a great location, but since the Halifax Industrial Development Authority’s last meeting, it has been taken off the market.
At that March meeting, the board voted to accept a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund to do additional environmental assessment on the property, according to Brian Brown, executive director of the IDA, which he said is why it has been pulled.
“The IDA has not been forthcoming, and I’ve been hitting all these roadblocks, and I don’t really know why,” said Waller.
This all began last fall when she started a collaboration with the 40-Acre Co-op Trust “a membership-based cooperative supporting socially disadvantaged farmers by providing technical assistance, training, legal support and market access to industrial hemp market.”
She became their regional director bringing information to black farmers while experimenting with hemp at her medical practice.
Eventually they began to look for a place to establish a regional hub for research — clinical research, bench research and grow research — while also being the home of her medical practice.
“We have a great model to do that,” said Waller, who has seen medical benefits of CBD on her own patients.
Angela Dawson, director of the 40-Acres Co-op Trust, called Waller’s efforts “really great” saying “we want to take the work she has done so far and really scale it up” by using technical partners and partnerships with universities.
When Waller came across the Daystrom building, she felt that the location would be ideal, and began conversations with Brown.
Through Zoom meetings, letters and calls, they discussed the possibility of Waller leasing or purchasing the building, said Waller.
But, she said the IDA hasn’t been cooperative.
Instead, she said at first they did not acknowledge that her medical practice would be housed in the facility, and then she said they kept referring to it as a start up.
She explained it is not a start-up business, but a medical practice of 30-plus years.
Eventually, she said, they sent a three-page document requesting three years of tax returns, principal organizers and other documents she felt were “invading intellectual property.”
“I started to take it personal…I just want everyone to be equitable stakeholders,” said Waller, who first brought this situation to light at the Halifax County Board of Supervisor’s meeting Monday evening.
Dawson also explained that farmers all across America who aren’t “stereotypical farmers” are running into the same type of access issues as Waller so 40-Acres Co-op tries to help provide technical resources, educational resources and financial resources.
She also feels that certain companies are trying to monopolize the hemp business.
As Waller put it, “(minority farmers) are being shut down at the door before they can get their projects presented.”
The IDA executive director explained what was requested of Waller is standard practice.
“As for how we work with prospects seeking leasing terms, we do request financials of the company, business plans or prospectus, or if a start-up, financials of the owners or officers as part of our financial due diligence. This is standard practice in the real estate and banking world. Any upfits are incorporated in a lease rate,” he added.
But, he said the building isn’t quite ready yet.
In providing background on the building, Brown explained a 2000 site characterization report including health-based risk assessment “concluded that concentrations of metals in soil surrounding the former plating building and wastewater clarifier posed no significant health risk to commercial/industrial workers or to hypothetical residential adults and children.”
“The SCR concluded that concentrations of metals in groundwater posed no significant health risk to commercial/industrial workers,” he added.
The SCR had focused on impact from metals concentrations detected in soil and groundwater in the vicinity of historic chromic acid plating operations, said Brown.
In May 2005, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates (CRA) conducted additional soil and groundwater sampling, according to the IDA executive director, and it found various metals detected in soil samples as well as metals in groundwater samples.
Brown explained this information is the result of environmental testing and research conducted last year as part of a EPA Brownfield Grant by our contractor Draper Aden Associates.
Moving forward, he said the new grant accepted in March will be used for additional testing, and he said the IDA would have the option to re-enroll the site into the VRP to satisfy the concerns and receive certificate of completion for the site.
“As a result of these tests, there will be a development plan to move forward with marketing the site, which may include restrictions of use and limit areas of development. This is why we have pulled marketing of the site and have notified companies that are seeking to lease the building of this decision,” said Brown.
He anticipates this work to take six months, and said Draper Aden would be at the next board meeting to discuss the plan.
The executive director also said the best use for the Daystrom building is light manufacturing and distribution.
In the meantime, Waller said she would continue to pursue the Daystrom building while also looking at other sites.
“We can’t stop the dream,” she added.
“I’m prayerful, but not too optimistic. I don’t want to cause animosity. I want to work things out.”