Parking, traffic top concerns at JPA meeting on pot shop

Parking and traffic were the top concerns raised during a Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) meeting on Dec. 10 on the proposed recreational marijuana store, Core Empowerment, in Hyde Square.

JPA voted down a motion not to oppose the proposal with several members asking for a more detailed traffic mitigation plan from the Core Empowerment team. The vote was 7-4 in opposition.

Core Empowerment is majority owned and managed by a diverse, local, women-led team: CEO April Arrasate, an attorney with a biochemistry background and prior experience working in the medical marijuana business in the Connecticut; CFO Peri Higgins, who has 25 years of experience in the private equity, real estate, and consulting industries; Counsel Derric Small, who prior to forming his own practice was a City of Boston official with over 20 years of experience; and Chief Operating Officer Tomas Gonzalez, who grew up in Jamaica Plain and is the former deputy director for the Office of Neighborhood Services in the Walsh administration.

Core Empowerment is proposing a 6,000-square-foot store at 401A Centre St., the former location of Milky Way. The site has been vacant for 10 years since Milky Way left because of a rent dispute. The pot shop would be open between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., averaging about 15 to 30 customers per hour with transactions lasting about five to seven minutes, according to the Core Empowerment team.

About 50 people were at the Dec. 10 meeting at the Connolly Branch Library, with attendees split between supporting and opposing the planned pot shop. Supporters said that the neighborhood voted to approve the recreational marijuana ballot question in 2016 and that the store would fill a long-vacant space and bring much-needed foot traffic to the business district. Opponents questioned the impact the business would have on traffic and parking in the area, with some raising concerns about how the store would effect children in the area.

Addressing concerns over parking and traffic, the Core Empowerment team said it had conducted a traffic study for the area and found that there are 273 legal parking spaces in the area, that it will offer valet parking, plans to hire locally, and will fully subsidize MBTA passes for its workers.

Kevin Moloney of JPA noted that Core Empowerment is saying that the average transaction would be five to seven minutes and questioned whether a customer would use valet for such a short transaction time, as opposed to some one using valet while going to a hospital or restaurant.

“No one else has offered valet. We did it proactively,” said Gonzalez.

“But will you promise this will really work?” asked Moloney.

Arrasate said, “We are not valet experts. We are doing everything it takes.”

She said that the team is willing to look at other options, including using a shuttle to bring customers from a parking lot to the store.

“We are willing to do a lot of different things,” said Arrasate.

Core Empowerment also discussed community benefits it said the business would bring, including educational seminars, paying three percent of gross sales to the City as part of the Host Community Agreement, and giving one percent of gross sales to nonprofits. Gonzalez said the top three nonprofits the team is aiming to donate to are Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), the Regan Youth League, and Spontaneous Celebrations.

When asked if HSTF is supporting the store, Gonzalez replied that he is in discussions with HSTF Executive Director Celina Miranda and expects to receive a letter of no opposition.

Michel Soltani, owner of Brendan Behan Pub in Hyde Square, said he supports the project because the store would bring much-needed foot traffic to the area, which the business district needs to survive.

Tamara Pitts spoke in opposition to the store, saying that while she voted in favor of the 2016 ballot question, she only did so young people’s lives would stop being destroyed.

“Young people have been impacted by the absolutely failed policy of the war on drugs,” she said.

Pitts said she doesn’t understand how society goes from arresting young people for marijuana to selling the drug.

According to JPA Chair Rosemary Jones, who the Gazette spoke with days after the Dec. 10 meeting, Core Empowerment will return to the JPA in January.

They will present detailed plans for dealing with traffic and parking, and a written assessment (my word) from the Hyde Square Task Force relative to the potential impact of this establishment on the Hyde Square neighborhood,” she said. “The follow-up Core Empowerment presentation will be on the JPA agenda for the Monday, Jan.7 JPA meeting.  We anticipate a lot of community interest, and have reserved the large meeting room in the First Baptist Church at 633 Centre Street, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.”

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