The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on Tuesday voted to deny the application for a cannabis store at 297 Newbury St.
Applicant Shane Hyde, who proposed to open Ember Gardens, a 1300 square foot retail cannabis shop at the site, came before the ZBA seeking relief from the half mile buffer, as this location is within a half mile of two other approved cannabis shops, as well as a conditional use permit, which is required of all cannabis applicants.
Chris Tracy of O’Neill and Associates said that “we feel like if one section of Boston could contain multiple cannabis shops, it certainly is Newbury St…” adding that both residents and tourists frequent the street often.
Tracy said that the location was “unanimously approved” by the Boston Cannabis Board last winter, and more than 250 Back Bay residents and 700 Boston residents expressed support for the application. He said that “numerous concessions” were made to address concerns from neighbors.
The store is proposed to be appointment only, with six tills and between nine and 11 employees and the same amount of customers allowed in the store at the same time. The store was proposed to be open from 10am to 8pm seven days a week, with the last hour of operation reserved for Back Bay residents only. Deliveries would come through the back alley during non-business hours and Hyde said they would not bother residents or cause traffic issues.
“What is the compelling reason that you are within a half mile of another facility?” asked ZBA chair Christine Araujo, adding later that she understands that the applicant is an equity applicant and the location is one where there is a lot of foot traffic, but “Newbury St. is not a block long,” she said. “I need to understand what were the options on Newbury St., on Boylston St., and other options that you have explored so that you’re not within a half mile of another facility.”
Hyde said that because there are schools nearby, “there’s really only one section of Back Bay that is even open due to the requirements of schools from a state law perspective.”
Several elected officials and residents spoke at the hearing, all in opposition. The ZBA did report that they received “numerous letters of opposition,” but they also received some in support.
“I’m here to strongly oppose this proposal,” District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok said. “I will stress that this is not just within a half mile of one, but actually two approved locations on Boylston St., and that the folks I represent in the Back Bay reasonably wonder whether the half mile buffer actually has has any meaning.”
She also said that she has previously supported five other cannabis applications in the district, but she feels that this location is not a good one, and said many of her constituents have expressed opposition to the proposal.
“This one actual abuts a large residential building,” she said, and the back alley is “completely surrounded by residences,” adding that she is not aware of any other cannabis shop, proposed or approved, that is in the same situation.
The Mayor’s Office was also in opposition to the application, as was State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who lives two blocks away from the location. He, too, said he has supported other cannabis applications and agreed with Bok that this is not an appropriate location.
Elliott Laffer of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that “we have not opposed other cannabis locations nearby,” but “this one is in a terrible location directly adjacent to and sharing a fire escape with an all residential building.”
Mark and John Cristo, owners of 295 Newbury St., also opposed the building, citing safety concerns for residents.
Lindsay Anderson, owner of 290 Newbury St., said he was also opposed and had concerns about traffic and parking near the proposed location.
Hyde said that he believes the team has “worked strongly with the community” to ensure that concerns like these were addressed. He said changes to the proposal, were made including making the operation appointment only, agreeing not to sell single use products, and “working with some of the best traffic engineers in the city in terms of setting up the back alley location.”
He also said that they had committed to having two security staff outside to ensure no double parking and the block would be circled to make sure there were no “second transactions” or littering.
After hearing all input, the ZBA decided to deny this application for this location.