After much community discussion, the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on Tuesday approved the change of occupancy at 591 Albany St. to allow marijuana company Liberty Compassion to open a medical marijuana dispensary at the location.
The Liberty Compassion team told the ZBA that they have signed a Community Host Agreement with the City of Boston, as well as a “detailed” Memorandum of Understanding with the Blackstone Franklin Neighborhood Association.
Vin Giordano of Liberty Compassion explained that this location is partly a flower shop, and called it “an ideal location for a marijuana dispensary.” He said they took feedback from community meetings, including some of the design concerns people had. Giordano said that some people expressed concern with a large line of people waiting outside to get inside the dispensary, so they modified the inside so it would have a larger queuing area for people to wait outside without creating congestion on the sidewalk. Giordano said that nothing will change on the outside of the 2,500 square-foot building except signage.
“Security is a primary concern,” Giordano said. Security consultant Paul Fitzgerald said that the goal is “to have the greatest security”—a mixture of people, procedures, and equipment.
Giordano said that they predict there will be between eight and 10 customers in the store at one time, with about 200 people visiting the store each day. The hours will be from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sundays, as neighborhood groups did not like the extended Sunday hours, he said. He said that there will be a minimum sale of $50 initially and $35 subsequently.
He said that there is “no easy parking solution,” and they have met with BTD to discuss turning several spots outside the location into 15-minute transient spots. Giordano said this would be effective for people who place their orders ahead of time and just need to quickly run in to retrieve them. He added that they are also trying to work out an agreement for parking on Harrison Avenue for employees or specific customers.
The ZBA asked the team about nearby substance issues, with this location’s proximity to treatment at Boston Medical Center. “The proximity to BMC is a benefit,” Giordano said, as “people will have access to our products that are close.”
Faisa Sharif from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said that there have been about a half dozen meetings about this proposal, and it is “very clear from the neighborhood that…this is the most flexible zoning in the entirety of the neighborhood; it’s meant to encourage commercial, research, development uses, and this fits right in,” she said. She said that people are more concerned about putting dispensaries in forbidden-use areas. “The vast majority have expressed support because of where it was located,” Sharif said. She said that while there are opponents such as Leggat McCall, the Abbey Group, and the Newmarket Business Alliance, many residents feel that their concerns have been addressed.
David Stone from the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association said that based on discussions and the results of those discussions, the neighborhood association is not opposed to the project.
A South End resident also expressed her support, saying she has a life partner who has cancer and currently has to travel to the Brookline dispensary to get treatment. “Albany Street is an ideal location,” she said, adding that her partner is also in support. Another resident said she supports this location because it “does not pose a significant traffic problem,” and will not disrupt the flow of traffic as it already is.”
A woman with the Boston Flower Exchange was not as happy. “I’m really saddened to not be notified in writing about this meeting,” she said, saying that she had only heard about it the day before. “We felt the process perhaps wasn’t managed appropriately,” she said. “This use is not appropriate at the moment as this neighborhood is in transition.”
A representative of Leggat McCall, the property manager of an abutting building also said that they were not informed of the ZBA hearing. He said that others would have shown up had they received notice. He said that since it was within a half mile of a “major substance abuse treatment center,” they are not in support of this proposal. He cited a letter from BMC’s Michael Botticelli that said the proximity to the treatment centers is not a good idea. “We recognize that it has support,” the representative said of the project, but requested a deferral as he felt that proper notice was not given. “We’re not even sure we’re aware of the current status of the proposal,” he said. He said he was also concerned that the proponents had “declined” to commit to not seek a recreational license in the future.
The ZBA responded by saucing that they have record that notice was given to the Flower Exchange and to Leggat McCall, and that if the proponents choose to seek a recreational license, they will have to go through the entire process again. Sharif also confirmed that notices were sent out to the appropriate parties.
The ZBA ultimately decided to approve the project with continued BPDA design review, and that the approval is for this applicant only and they will not be able to turn medical into recreational without coming before the ZBA again.