Following a contentious meeting last Wednesday at the East Boston Social Centers regarding an adult-use marijuana facility proposed at 24 Porter St., the City of Boston’s Zoning Board (ZBA) of Appeals will now have to decide if the location is the best fit for the neighborhood.
Right off the bat, city officials facilitating the meeting between the proponent, Omnicann, and residents laid down the ground rules for the meeting. They said the city-sponsored community meeting was not designed to debate the state’s marijuana laws. Those laws, city officials explained, have already been decided by the voters during a statewide ballot initiative.
Still, that didn’t stop some from expressing the view that although Eastie voters overwhelmingly supported recreational marijuana use, they never imagined it would end up in their own backyard.
However, city officials asked the community to look at Omnicann’s proposal as a ‘zoning’ issue and whether or not the 24 Porter St. location would be a good fit for the neighborhood.
It was abundantly clear during the meeting that many residents, aside from whether or not they agree with adult recreational marijuana use, did not think Omnicann’s location would work.
Like many other recreational facilities being pitched for Eastie, there are around seven in the pipeline as of today, Omnicann’s proposal is thorough, includes a solid security component and painstainkling addresses all the state and city regulations for running such a facility.
However, Omnicann’s location just outside Central Square and wedged between the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel and North Suffolk Mental Health Association (NSMHA) is what concerns residents most.
First, there is the traffic issue.
Many residents at last week’s meeting let Omnicann’s President, Arish Halani, know about the traffic woes the community has been suffering since MassDOT removed the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza and reconfigured traffic flows in the area. Residents at the meeting feared that the adult use marijuana facility would become a destination for not only Eastie residents but for residents in surrounding communities, adding to the already unbearable traffic issue plaguing the streets.
Halani and his father, Omicann co-founder Sohail Halani, said they have tried to address that issue by proposing a later opening time for the facility once traffic dies down during the morning commute. Halani said that after monitoring traffic in the area they would not open the shop until 10 a.m.
However, some still felt having a destination business with no off-street parking would overtax the business district because customers would not only flock to the location and add to traffic, but would also have a hard time finding parking once they reached the location. While there are two municipal lots close by they residents argued that those lots could not guarantee designated spaces for the facility and the other lots in the area at Liberty Plaza and Walgreens are privately owned lots and not open to public parking.
The other major issue was the facility’s proximity to NSMHA, an agency that deals not only with mental health, but also substance abuse issues in the community. NSMHA CEO Dr. Jackie Moore, whose clients seek sobriety daily at NSMHA, is on the record as saying the city should consider controls that prevent clustering and maintain buffer zones around well-defined areas where children and youth and other vulnerable groups, such as those in treatment for mental illness and or addiction frequent.
Many at last week’s meeting agreed with Moore.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she is a realist when it comes to adult-use facilities proposed for the neighborhood and outright said at last week’s meeting, ‘Get ready because they are coming.’ However, like many, she questioned not the facility and what it is offering but the owner’s decision to place such a facility in a congested area near a substance-abuse treatment facility.
“It’s about location, location, location,” she said.
Recently, Edwards held a hearing to discuss potential policy changes affecting the siting of enterprises serving cannabis as well as alcohol in the immediate vicinity of substance abuse treatment facilities.
Edwards pointed to the proposed dispensaries on Porter Street next door to NSMHA as the inspiration for the hearing.
After last week’s community meeting Edwards said she was moved by patients who testified about the benefits medicinal marijuana has had on their lives and their support of the facility. However, with six other adult use facilities proposed for Eastie Edwards said she feels other locations in the neighborhood could not only serve the needs of those needing or wanting adult use marijuana but do so without having a tremendous impact on the quality of lives of abutters, the community as a whole and the patients of MSMHA.