click to enlarge Ted and Vickie Miller at home in Eustis

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Ted and Vickie Miller at home in Eustis

A Lake County couple's rural paradise went bad when a corporate medical marijuana farm moved in next door 

Noises off

The noise started on an early morning in February, as Ted and Vickie Miller were sound asleep and snoring in the confines of their farm-style home off County Road 44A in Eustis. It sounded like an engine cranking up at first. Ted sat up in bed, confused and panicked, with that feeling of going from unconscious to incensed in a matter of seconds. "What are you doing?" Vickie asked him.

"I think somebody's stealing my tractor," Ted told her, leaping from between the sheets to grab one of his rifles and run outside to the back porch.

The backyard, however, was dark. Ted's equipment was undisturbed. But the noise hadn't stopped.

"What the hell?" Ted wondered aloud, as he peered into the dark, dense woods behind their five-acre plot of land, where they've lived for 29 years. He could smell the skunk-like aroma of cannabis wafting through the air.

That's when it struck him: The noise – the low-hum buzzing, like a gasoline-powered generator humming around the corner, like the sound of a jet engine that's idling on a taxiway – was coming from the weed farm next door.

That was four months ago. The noise hasn't stopped since.

The smell of cannabis coming from the facility is something they can deal with, the Millers say. Though they lean socially conservative in most respects and claim they're not recreational marijuana users, Ted and Vickie acknowledge the importance of the state's medical marijuana program for patients who need it. They also claim to have had no problem with the previous owners of the cannabis cultivation facility next door, the Treadwell Nursery, which used open-air greenhouses and fans – which aren't noisy – and was owned by family members.

That changed when California-based company MedMen bought the Treadwell Nursery in September. The company revamped the facility with massive climate-controlled Dutch-style greenhouses that reduce humidity levels and produce a higher-quality, healthier product. And when MedMen cranked up the dehumidifiers on that morning in February, that's when the trouble started.

It's not just the noise, either, the Millers say. Bright lights from the facility shine onto the front of their property and onto some of their neighbors' properties. Freight truck traffic on what used to be a quiet country road has increased significantly in recent months, which the Millers say worries their neighbors with children who ride the school bus.

However, the Millers claim the main problem is that the nursery property is zoned as agricultural, meaning it's exempt from noise ordinances, but the equipment MedMen is using is industrial. They say that's not fair.

The entire experience has inspired the Millers and their neighbors to form a small coalition of pissed-off citizens, clad in "Stop the Noise" T-shirts.

In April, the coalition of County Road 44A neighbors and Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione met at the Miller's residence to discuss concerns. To date, though, efforts at the county level have remained largely unsuccessful. A county-led "workshop" to address the matter is tentatively set for July 30, Lake County representative Tiffany Henderson tells Orlando Weekly.

"Until the Board of County Commissioners provides direction, it's hard to say what changes, if any, might be made," Henderson says.

Ted says, "The county's scared of them because this is a multimillion-dollar company, and the county's worried that they're gonna sue them. They told us that." He also claims the county advised him to seek legal counsel. To which he says he replied, "'Do you know how long it would take [MedMen] to bankrupt me? A month!' I'd be in a hole. You know what I mean?"

Vickie says she was skeptical of the company from the beginning.

"I did say to my husband when this is all started, 'This is not going to be good for us.' And he said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. It's [your cousin] Glenn [Treadwell] and them – everything's fine,'" Vickie says. "And everything was fine until [MedMen] took over."

"This is big business. This ain't your mom-and-pop shop," Ted adds. "And that's the whole thing we're fighting, because this is industrial."

Vickie pulls out her phone and opens an app that measures decibel levels. With only the noise of the facility humming in the background, it registers at 73 decibels – the near equivalent to a passenger car passing you by at 65 mph from 25 feet away, according to a study by the Temple University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

If you look beyond the barbed wire fence separating the Millers' and MedMen's property, you'll see several of the facility's industrial-size dehumidifier's vent-heads sticking out from atop the building. Ted squints his bright blue eyes and points.

"You see the very top of the silver-looking thing over the building right there?" Ted says. "They've got six of them big jokers and they've only got two or three of them running right now. ... To hear this 24 hours a day, it's crazy."

(MedMen later explained to Orlando Weekly that the individual dehumidifiers are designed to cut on and off as needed, but the system is always on.)

Since the Miller family and their neighbors first started complaining about the noise several months ago, Nick Hansen, the regional director of government affairs for MedMen, says the company has undertaken various efforts to alleviate their concerns.

"The first thing we did was to install silencers on the dehumidifiers that were the main source of noise. We have begun to erect sound-blocking walls. Additionally, we have identified several measures to further reduce noise," Hansen says. "We expect the work be completed by early June."

Hansen says the company is in the process of erecting more sound-proof fencing along the facility's south end, which should also help with the noise, as well as large wooden fences around some of the operation's air chillers that feed into the grow houses. They've even gone as far as to wrap the AC units, Hansen says.

Who is MedMen anyway?

The company has posted higher sales numbers than some of the nation's largest corporations – according to sales per square foot, MedMen's California stores raked in more than Apple's last year. The company recently started their own magazine called EMBER, introduced a private-label brand called Statemade and convinced Spike Jonze to star in one of their ads. And in this time, MedMen has ramped up its production, opening dispensaries throughout the six states in which they're currently operational, according to the company's website.

"They were banking on Florida," Vickie says, referring to the possibility of the state eventually legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis.

"And we all know it's going recreational," Ted says.

Sitting at a wooden picnic table outside their home, underneath the wide limbs of a large oak tree, Ted points to the branches. He says he planted the tree nearly 30 years ago, when he and Vickie first moved onto the property.

"We've worked our whole life for this place. It's paid for; we don't owe anybody nothing," Ted says and sighs. "They destroyed my dream."

It's what they were supposed to leave their children someday, Vickie adds. "His mom passed away here. My mom passed away here," she says. "Of anywhere I've ever been, this is my home."

Ted claims MedMen offered them $150,000 for both their five-acre property and their roughly 2,400-square-foot home. According to a Zillow estimate, the property is worth more than twice that amount. Ted says it felt like a slap in the face.

(Asked to comment on this, Hansen replies, "We don't discuss any negotiations on real estate between parties.")

"I said, 'You tell that guy he better be glad his ass wasn't standing in front of me or I would've punched him in the face,'" Ted says of the original offer. "Offer me $150,000 for everything I've worked for all my life, you've got to be kidding me."

Ted worries about how far their fight with MedMen will go. He says he has dreams sometimes – more like nightmares – in which he takes out all his anger on the company. He does this in smaller ways in real life, too, such as when he burns leaves close to the property line so the smoke drifts toward the facility. It's the little things that help him get through the process, he says. He says he never even raked the yard before this. He laughs.

"I told my wife, 'If I ever do snap, they're gonna have to kill me in my yard because I'm not gonna go to jail for this shit,'" Ted says. "This is my home."

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