Zoning Board of Appeals Allows Medical Marijuana Facility to Proceed on Newbury

By Beth Treffeisen

The Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) unanimously voted to allow the medical marijuana dispensary slated for 331A-333 Newbury St. to proceed.

Geoffrey Reilinger of Passionate Organics gained permission to change the occupancy of the space from a retail store to a registered marijuana dispensary, which included an interior renovation for tenant fit-out.

The ZBA board approved the application with provisos including that the store be only a medical marijuana facility, and if any changes occur to switch to recreational, Passionate Organics would need to return to the board.

In addition, Passionate Organics need to provide documentation that a minimum of 10 parking spaces are reserved in a nearby garage for customers and submit a detailed security plan to the board.

“We are very disappointed,” said Martyn Roetter, the chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “NABB’s position on this is from a result of a great community effort to hear arguments on all sides of this position. We’ve listened to the Passionate Organics people and their team but in the end the opposition really stems from presence of young children in the neighborhood – that’s what it’s boiled down to.”

During the hearing testimony, Roetter said that if the location were not directly abutting a residential area, it would certainly be viewed in a different light.

Roetter said that NABB also heard opposition from business community members that said a marijuana dispensary would not be good for Newbury Street development.

Yissel Guerrero, the mayor’s Liaison to the Back Bay neighborhood, stated that an abutters meeting was held this past September and she has since received a lot of phone calls on this issue.

Guerrero shared that the Mayor’s Office decided to uphold what the Boston City Council voted on this past June that sent a letter of non-opposition to allow Passionate Organics to move forward in their application with the State.

Kate Bell, representing Boston City Council Josh Zakim, said the councilor is against this application despite previously stating that this would be an appropriate location at the June Boston City Council hearing.

“After careful consideration and extensive discussion with neighbors, Councilor Zakim has determined that this location is not right for a medical marijuana dispensary,” said Bell. “We believe that such use would not be in the best interest of the neighborhood. From the offset of this process of this proposal, we have attended numerous public meetings and spoken with supporters and those opposed.”

Bell said that they commend Mr. Reilinger and his team for their community outreach and intention to compromise with all concerned neighbors.

“But ultimately after considering all of the factors, in our opinion, a medical marijuana dispensary is not an appropriate use for this particular block of Newbury Street. We have serious concerns about traffic and deliveries,” said Bell.

Bell asked that an alternative location be sought that is not in residential use and is not located on Boston’s premiere retail street.

At the hearing Mike Ross, the attorney representing Passionate Organics, said that the store plans to provide validated parking at the nearby Somerset Garage located at 425 Newbury St.

Patricia Brown, who is on the board of trustees for the Somerset Garage, disagreed, saying there is very limited parking, and she is unaware of any agreement made to provide parking to Passionate Organics customers.

“I’ve been here 18 years and never missed a [trustees] meeting,” said Brown. “I’m an orthodontist and have an office on Commonwealth Avenue As someone who is in this area often I’ve noticed that most people who are in the area are under the age of 21. This is a very bad idea.”

Ross said that they where in contact with someone at the garage but if it didn’t work out at this location they would find an agreement at a different garage in the area.

Reilinger of Passionate Organics has pledged to the community that he would keep the facility strictly medical, but his lease agreements with the buildings owner gives him the option of switching to recreational, as long as the lessee, Passionate Organics, pays a 5 percent higher base rent for the space.

Marvin Wool the head of the development committee for NABB said that the lease would allow them to switch over to a recreational facility if Passionate Organics chooses to apply for a recreational marijuana license with the state.

If they chose to switch, Passionate Organics would have to wait until April 2018 to apply for a recreational store and facility with the state. The first recreational licenses are scheduled to be issued in June 2018, just weeks before the first recreational-use stores are set to open on July 1, 2018.

Passionate Organics still needs to gain final approval from the State Department of Public Health and signage approval from the Back Bay Architectural Commission.

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