JPNC votes to approve change in occupancy for marijuana store at 401A Centre St.

By Lauren Bennett

       Marijuana business Core Empowerment returned before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) in a heated meeting on January 22. Core Empowerment is looking to open a marijuana store at 401A Centre St., and came to the JPNC zoning committee in December seeking a change in occupancy to open the business. Rather than voting at the December meeting, the zoning committee asked Core Empowerment to come back in front of the full council. JPNC voted 8-4 to accept the change, with some provisos.

       Core Empowerment CEO Tomas Gonzalez presented the proposal for his business in front of a packed room—the “largest turnout in my experience,” according to JPNC member Bernie Doherty— at the Farnsworth House. The company is 96-percent owned by women and people of color and 100-percent of investors are local, according to Gonzalez. He also said that they are hoping to hire a diverse group of local people.

       The dispensary would be open from 10am-10pm, with an estimated 15-30 customers per hour.  The capacity of the store is about 150, Gonzalez said.

       Gonzalez touched on security, as that is a major concern for the community. He said there would be an entry point into the dispensary that would have a greeter who would tell the person to have their ID ready. The person would then head downstairs where they would be greeted by another person who would scan their ID. In addition, Dan Linskey of Kroll Experts said that Core Empowerment’s products are all barcoded and tracked, so someone can be caught misusing the product and not allowed back in the store.

       There will also be another security guard below. Gonzalez said that since the space is so large, there will also be an educational component within the dispensary to inform people about marijuana.

       Gonzalez talked about the Traffic and Parking Management plan that was requested by the Jamaica Pond Association. As previously reported by the Gazette, the plan includes dropoff/pickup spaces, parking spots in nearby lots, and the potential for a shared valet service. Core Empowerment is also going to provide 100% subsidized MBTA passes and shuttle buses for its employees, as well as two flashing beacons to alert drivers that pedestrians are walking by.

       A Good Neighbor Agreement also must be signed by every customer so they know the consequences of their actions. Three percent of gross sales will go to the Host Community Agreement, and a $500,000 commitment over five years will go towards charitable contributions to local groups, Gonzalez said.

       JPNC member Bruce Marks said he has a “real concern” that Core Empowerment is renting from well-known landlord Morty Levin, who Marks said has kept that building vacant for ten years. “He has said to me and others that he would not rent it out over ten years at a lower rate, and you are paying him $40,000 a month,” Marks said to Core Empowerment. “This has a huge impact on businesses in Hyde Square.”v 

       Mike Ross, Core Empowerment’s attorney, said he could neither confirm nor deny that number, as they are under contractual obligation not to talk about the lease that was signed. He said that when Core Empowerment was searching for a site, they were looking for a place that can accommodate more people with a good location. “Cannabis rates right now in MA are at a level well beyond any other number that normal rents are getting,” Ross said. “It doesn’t bring other rents up, it brings other cannabis rents up.”

       “I would like to know how much money you’re going to take home at the end of the year,” said JPNC member Gert Thorn. He said he would like to see some sort of public benefit corporation be founded and that it would have an ownership of 5 percent of the firm “so we become real participants in your corporation.”

       “I encourage you to take on the community as a partner financially,” Thorn said.

       “We are as community oriented as it’s going to be,” Gonzalez replied. He said that they are partly from the community and some of the investors are from JP. “We are a small wholesale group,” he said.

       “Make sure this community gets a benefit out of this,” Thorn reiterated.

       JPNC member Priscilla Yang wanted to know if any type of crime information and other statistics will be released to the public. “I want to know that once you’ve been operating for six months [there will be] a regular mechanism for people to communicate to work and solve problems.”

       “We can come back quarterly or every six months to have community meetings,” Gonzalez said.

       “I’m not just here for licensing,” Linskey added. He said for people to call him with any issues right away, even if it’s “stuff that happens off our property three miles away—we’re saying if we’re informed about those things we’ll be part of that process.”

       “We will commit to a regular schedule of meetings,” Ross said, and have the whole team back with any security data.

       “I think the community has earned that right to be more involved in a more specific matter,” said JPNC member Bernie Doherty.

       Community members were split about the idea of having this marijuana store in their neighborhood. Sherry Mason said that she is “thrilled that this amazingly community-oriented business, thrilled that this proposal is out there.” She said that there is “so much misinformation about marijuana out there,” though she does understand that people might be concerned.

       Another resident on Boylston St. was not as enthusiastic. “I’ve watched marijuana ruin lots of young people’s lives,” she said. “I am very very concerned about the young people in this city and the effect that marijuana has on their minds. Once there’s more access, there’s more use. I don’t want to pretend that we are not opening a drug use store in our neighborhood.”

       “I really think that this is a question of quality of life,” another said, citing the traffic issues and  saying she hopes people will use the proposed shared valet service. “My quality of life suffers,” she said.

       After further discussion between the JPNC members and some limited public comment, the JPNC made a motion to approve the change in occupancy with the provisos that it is subject to the material presented at the January meeting, Core Empowerment is subject to quarterly meetings with JPNC on security and other matters, JPNC is invited to the Hyde Square Merchants Association, and that the change in occupancy is a conditional use for this applicant only.

       The Community Host Agreement meeting regarding this proposal is on Thursday, January 24th.

ZONING COMMITTEE UPDATES

       The JPNC Zoning Committee met on January 16 and reported back to the full neighborhood council at the meeting on January 22.  JPNC voted 7-1 with two abstentions to approve the project at 632-638 Centre St. as-is on committee reports. The project is a four story building that will have 18 residential units, 4 commercial units, and permeable exterior parking spaces. The zoning committee said that they broke ground on this project, were sued by neighbors, and have since worked it out. JPNC voted 10-0 to refuse that the proponents move forward with the project at 95-97 West Walnut Park, which was originally a four family home but has been scaled down to three. The zoning committee said it was received as a controversial project. JPNC 10-0 to deny the project at 7-15 Catherine St., where the comments from the community were “overwhelmingly negative,” the zoning committee reported. The proposed project is to construct 5 townhouses.

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