By Lauren Benett
The Jamaica Pond Association voted on April 1 to oppose the recreational marijuana establishment proposed for the site of the AAA Appliance building at 769 Centre St. Community members were packed into the meeting room at First Baptist Church on Centre St. on April 1 to hear the contentious proposal, where not one person spoke in favor of having the establishment at this location.
Brian Bairos, CEO of Giving Tree Health Center, Inc. gave a brief presentation about the proposed dispensary. He said that they would like to keep the building’s appearance “uniform…clean it up and have a nice awning, a little bit of display on the windows.” He said they want too use the basement along with the street level. At the street level, there would be a guard to check IDs, and “nothing cannabis related in that front part,” he said. There would be a waiting area for crowd control, and then the main dispensary area. Bairos said that the basement area is where the vault and the security office would be, as well as a break room for the employees. He also proposed “artistic, JP oriented design” for the walls, and the main dispensary would “look like an Apple Store,” he added, with long tables that display the product.
Bairos said that there would be security personnel throughout the dispensary. He said that Howard Stein Hudson is the traffic consultant for the project, and they are “in the process of doing a traffic report.” He said that the dispensary would be mostly cash-based pay, but there is an online system where people can purchase a prepaid card using a credit or debit card, and use that prepaid card to make a transaction in the store.
There would be about 15-20 employees in the dispensary at any given time, Bairos said, with about 20-25 total employees. He said they will follow most other dispensaries in using an appointment system at first. They proposed to sell “cannabis products and cannabis infused products,” he said, such as cookies, brownies, and gummies, depending on what the JP community would like.
“We’re not looking to advertise to the outside world,” Bairos said. “We came to JP because we want to be part of the JP community…we’re not trying to bring any additional people in.”
He said that they anticipate serving anywhere from 400 to 600 people a day, and the proposed hours of operation are from 9:00am to 7:00pm. Bairos said he also has a grow facility in the works in Fall River, which will provide the product for this dispensary.
There were several comments made about how Bairos and his team were premature in their proposal to the community, as they do not have the traffic study yet and there was no real security or parking plan presented. Bairos did say that for the “initial period” (which Bairos said he did not know the length of), they would like to have a person directing traffic to parking. “We’ll have more of an answer about parking when the traffic study is complete,” he said.
Resident Bob Matthews said that the “traffic and parking issue is huge,” adding that Core Empowerment’s proposal in Hyde Square has just been approved by the ZBA, so “why do we need another one down here?…You’re adding no incremental value, even for people who want to use this facility, to this neighborhood,” Matthews said. “You will have no control after they leave your premises.”
“You kept saying that everything in here was for the community,” another resident said, “but you need to get to know the neighborhood better,” including the names of streets.
Another resident said that 600 people a day will displace the local businesses. “Take your business to a community that can handle it,” he said. “We are a family oriented community and we’re trying to keep it that way.”
While the location does fit within the required radius from schools, there were several comments made about the large number of places for children in the immediate area surrounding the proposed location, including a day care and a camp. Eric Weil, a doctor in Revere, said that there have been “increased motor vehicle accidents since marijuana has been legalized,” and “children and adolescents who use marijuana have been shown to have developmental issues.” He said that more than anything else, and others agreed with him, that he is concerned about this this proposal “because of the location more than anything else,” as it “poses a risk to our children.”
Another resident mentioned Kids Arts, an after school program in the area, is where kids “come directly after school and spend many hours there,” she said. “To me, that’s just as important as a school.”
Diane Spears of the Loring Greenough House, which is across the street from the proposed marijuana facility, explained that the grounds of the house are open to the public from dawn until dusk, and that they “deal with a lot of challenges along the way keeping our property open to the community. She said that currently, people park unauthorized and come to the property “to do things they shouldn’t do.” Spears said she is worried about people coming from the dispensary and loitering on the grounds of the property. “Our problems will be exacerbated by people coming from your store,” she told Bairos.
Several people from area businesses and properties said they received a letter from Bairos’ company with no phone number, email address, or return address to get into contact with him. “You need to do a better job of outreach to the community if you want our support,” one said.
“We were supportive of the shop in Hyde Square because it was a local business,” resident Marcia Burley said. “This is not a local business.” There were several other comments made about this too, as neither Bairos nor his investors are from Jamaica Plain.
One resident said that there are only two things he could think about in favor of this proposal: there is a pizza place next door, and “it’s not another Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “I don’t think you’re ready.”
Enrique Pepen, the new JP neighborhood liaison from the Mayor’s Office, said that there has not been an official abutters meeting scheduled yet, but once there is, it will provide “another chance for the logistics to be spoken about,” he said.
Once it came time for the JPA to vote, there was some discussion about whether or not they even should vote at that meeting, as there was still more information to be heard. Bairos asked the JPA to defer until the traffic study is done, but the community was insistent that they vote immediately.
“I think in fairness to this group we ought to give them the same opportunity to the folks in the Hyde Square group,” said JPA member Franklyn Salimbene, adding that he wants to hear more clarity about the proponent’s contributions to the community.
“I think we can predict what the traffic study is going to do,” said JPA member Kevin Moloney.
“The concept of deploying just to talk about parking is misleading,” JPA member Mark Zanger said. “The reality is they’re proposing something that is illegal in terms of the population.”
JPA member Martin Thomson said that the difference between this proposal and the other is that the feedback from the community was balanced between support and opposition. “This one, I don’t hear a single person in support he said.” JPA member Ed Burley added that Core Empowerment “was a lot more organized and prepared initially.”
The JPA ultimately voted unanimously with three abstentions to oppose the proposal for this location at Centre St, which seemed to please the community.
41 Pershing Road
Also heard at the April 1 JPA meeting was a proposal to renovate the existing attic at 41 Pershing Road to create additional living space. Attorney Kevin Cloutier said that the attic is currently used for storage space only, and the renovation will include a master bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet. He said that a dormer will need to be built in order to gain the appropriate amount of headspace. “By adding this space, that space is not livable space,” Cloutier said, “so now it’s part of the gross floor area of the home. That will cause the home to exceed the zoning code…”
Rabbi Margie Klein-Ronkin, the owner of 41 Pershing Road, said that she and her family live in the two-family property and “love it.” They rent the other unit out to make extra money, and they have Klein-Ronkin’s parents over to help out with the kids. “If my husband and I moved upstairs
[into the attic space]
, it would give room to my parents top help with the kids,” she said. She said that the dormer they want to add would be identical to the one that currently exists next door.
“It actually doesn’t look very attractive to me from your pictures,” JPA member Michael Reiskind said. “I don’t think it looks great from the front.” He said that what bothers him the most are the windows, as the ones on the proposed dormer don’t line up with the windows below it. Reiskind suggested that if they make the dormer a little longer, they could install windows that line up with the others.
The JPA voted not to oppose this project with the proviso that if it is physically possible, that Klein-Ronkin agrees to rearrange the windows, which she happily agreed with.