John Harper, the owner of Under the Bridge Cigarettes and a backer of regional marijuana businesses, has purchased the burned-out marijuana processing operation on Portway Street he helped finance.
Harper’s purchases, through his company, Raider Holdings, include two lots on Marine Drive and Portway Street for $150,000 each, according to property records.
The Marine Drive property includes a parking lot and former gas station, Val’s Texaco. The Portway Street property was historically the Delphia Oil Bulk Plant. Both are under a cleanup order from the state Department of Environmental Quality for fuel contamination.
The Portway Street property includes the former location of marijuana store Sweet Relief, which Harper helped finance. In a basement that opens onto Industry Street was a grow site and hash-oil processing space operated by Higher Level Concentrates.
Harper said he has no plans for marijuana businesses at the site. “I think it’s got more value than that, and I think we’re saturated,” he said.
The building went up in flames in 2016 after a butane hash oil explosion that left a worker severely burned. The owners of Higher Level were prosecuted for causing the explosion by dabbing, a method of vaporizing concentrated marijuana with an open heat source, while making hash oil in an open-ended system.
The worker, Jacob Magley, sued Harper, Sweet Relief and Richard Delphia but settled last year. Delphia and his insurers later sued Higher Level, naming Sweet Relief and Harper as co-defendants for their knowledge of the operation, but dismissed the lawsuit in April.
Harper said he has been in negotiations with Delphia for two years to buy the properties while the litigation was resolved. The properties also faced restrictions outlined in the state’s 2013 cleanup order, including a prohibition on residential or agricultural development and soil monitoring for five years.
Harper envisions some sort of retail store at the site, and potentially workforce housing, with the parking lot along Marine Drive connecting to the building along Portway Street. Harper has previously bought and developed housing for his workers.
“I’m not pressed on any timeline,” he said. “I will be talking to people now that this thing is closed. Regardless of what it is, it’s going to be something that’s good for the community, or it will just sit there.”