WSANA Talks Opposition to Plan for Dispensary on Harrison Ave

There’s a funny thing that happens to a raging fire when gasoline is introduced into the situation.

The fire gets worse.

That was exactly the sentiment Tuesday night, June 26, when the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) leadership reported back to the members about a meeting they had with Happy Valley Massachusetts – which is rolling the dice in an effort to site a recreational marijuana store at 60 E. Springfield St. in what is now Café Quattro.

The location happens to be right square in the middle of the worst public drug abuse problems in the state.

President George Stergios said Matthew Reardon, of Ipswich and formerly of South Carolina, met with them about the plan.

“They bought 60 E. Springfield, the whole building that includes five apartments and Café Quattro,” he said. “The plan is to push Café Quattro out when their lease expires or buy him out early. The plan is to locate a dispensary for recreational marijuana at Café Quattro’s space, with the basement being for storage and one apartment above being used as an office.”

Happy Valley already has one location approved in Boston. That location is in an isolated area on McClellan Highway in East Boston. In that proposal this year, the local Orient Heights Neighborhood Association voted against the project 31-12, but the former city councilor and the overall community had supported it.

The company has a grow/cultivation/processing facility approved in Gloucester.

Reports show the company purchased the building for $5.5 million.

“They didn’t beat around the bush about medical marijuana; they want recreational,” said Stergios. “They are here to make money.”

Stergios said they were told by Reardon that the company would like to be up and running by March 2019. He also added that Reardon indicated the financing for the company comes from an investor who made millions when he sold his bottled water company to Dannon in the 1990s.

Neighbors, however, are very concerned about the location, which is in the heart of the state’s most problematic drug addiction situation – the sad epicenter of the opiate crisis can be seen daily right outside the door of the proposed location.

Adding a walk-in store for marijuana – which has proposed selling single marijuana cigarettes for $15 – could make the raging fire already there much worse.

For instance, neighbors thought it comical that the plan has them loading and unloading marijuana and cash in the alley behind – a horrible haunt for crime and drug use.

“I’m an abutter and I’m 25 feet away,” said Robert George. “The people rolling this out have no experience or insight into how this will fit into the current neighborhood environment. The alley, the stairs, and the loitering. The man who gave us the presentation is a real estate developer.”

Another neighbor pointed out that the location is right at a bus stop where children congregate to take the bus to school.

There are also concerns about parking, and whether or not they are a half-mile from the proposal at 633 Tremont St. in the South End.

Yet another proposal for a grow facility in Newmarket could also block the East Springfield proposal. That was reported last week in the Sun, and if it gets through permitting first, it could freeze out the East Springfield Street location from operating under Boston zoning, unless they seek and receive a variance from the half-mile rule.

Neighbors are also frustrated with the entire process, which seems like the Texas and California oil booms of the 1930s in that the rush is on to secure a location and beat everyone to opening.

“It’s really a race to see who gets the licensing faster,” said George. “It’s a terrible way to roll out a new industry…The whole industry is just saying, ‘I’m going to roll the dice and see what happens and if it comes up 7, I’m a big winner.’”

Mayoral Liaison Faisa Sharif said Happy Valley has not presented anything to her, which is the first official step in the process. She said the Newmarket grow facility does have a proposal out. The East Springfield location would have to appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to seek a change of use from restaurant to marijuana store.

  • WSANA members agreed that they would like to write a letter to transportation officials to get the new, non-working traffic signals up and running on Washington Street. Both new signals were installed in January and still don’t function. There are concerns that the new signals also don’t conform to the Landmarks District guidelines as they are galvanized and not black. Mayoral Liaison Faisa Sharif said there is some work being done on that part, but the hold-up for functionality is with Eversource electricity.
  • State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz appeared at the WSANA meeting on Tuesday and said she fully supported Mayor Martin Walsh’s plan for Long Island, but also said she has no opinion yet on what should happen at the Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain once that facility is moved to the South End in 2020.

Many in the South End and at WSANA have said supportive housing, a recovery campus and some existing South End services could be moved to the Shattuck in exchange for the relocation to the Newton Pavilion on the South End campus of Boston Medical Center.

Chang-Diaz – who is actually an abutter to the Shattuck – said it’s too early to have an opinion on that.

“I honestly think it’s too early because I don’t have an opinion yet,” she said. “I don’t think JP has an overall opinion yet either. I have heard talk about the site being used for supportive housing. Many in JP would support that. There’s also been talk about affordable housing there and open space.”

Chang-Diaz also took some heat from the members for a lack of responsiveness at times, and for not being personally present at South End meetings.

“I would like you to commit to coming to the South End Forum or the Opiate Working Group,” said Vice President Bob Minnocci. “I know you have hundreds of meetings a week you could attend, but this is a severe crisis area. I want you to be there.”

  • WSANA members indicated they probably wouldn’t support yet another change in the unit type at the former Immaculate Conception Church project, with developer Bodwell Pines informing the group it would seek to change back from condos to rentals.

The project was rentals at first, then changed to condos, and now wants to change back to rentals.

The neighbors said they would rather see the condo proposal with six on-site affordable units go forward. There was some sentiment that they might allow the change if more on-site affordable units were part of the commitment.

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