Public Meeting Held for Dispensary Proposed for 565 Columbus Ave.

Sweet & Sour, LLC is proposing a retail cannabis dispensary for 565 Columbus Ave. Unit C3 in the South End. At a virtual community meeting on June 21, proponents Gabriel Viera, Elis Omoroghomwan, and Christian Nicholson were on hand to present their proposal and address comments and questions from residents.

Omoroghomwan explained           that Sweet & Sour is a social equity company whose owners “strive to create opportunities for people of color and communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs and marijuana prohibition.”

The dispensary is proposed to be located near the site of the former Harriet Tubman House, which has since been demolished to construct a mixed use building.

“We chose this location to recreate a safe haven and place of opportunity for Black/Brown residents of the South End since what they once had has been destroyed,” a slide read.

Viera said that the team has received community feedback on a number of different issues, and presented how they have responded to that so far.

He said that the proposed hours of operation for the dispensary will be 10am-9pm, and the originally proposed rear loading area was “inefficient for community members and direct abutters.” As a result, the site plan has been modified to create a new loading zone about 200 feet away from the store. It will feature a loading zone sign in front of the BURN Fitness studios location, where there will be space for two vehicles to park. Viera said that a smaller van will be used to make deliveries rather than an 18-wheeler.

Viera also spoke about trash accumulation, as that has been an issue with other businesses in the area. He said that the team has committed to overnight trash pickup, which is also part of its Good Neighbor Policy. He said that Sweet & Sour labels will be placed on all products so they are easily identifiable, and if packaging or wrappers are found in nearby parks such as Wellington Green, Sweet & Sour employees will clean them up promptly.

Concerns about odor had also been raised, but Viera said that “this is a standalone retail location,” and no cultivation will take place on site. When products are delivered to the store, they are already packaged and sealed, so odor should not be an issue.

Mitigation of traffic was another large concern from the community, and Viera said that Sweet & Sour will be employing its online ordering system to allow for shorter wait times at the store, which will also help reduce congestion from traffic. Customers can order their products online ahead of time and pay online as well, and then pick them up in person. Viera said that this decreases checkout times “from five to roughly two to three minutes.”

Additionally, there will be a three member team on site that will consist of an ID checker, a traffic agent, and a cleanup person. A two-strike rule will also be enacted to help with traffic issues. If a person is caught double parking within the vicinity of the dispensary, they will be given a warning. If that same person double parks again, they will be banned from the store.

Viera said that customers will be “strongly encouraged” to utilize public transportation.

IDs will be checked twice before a customer can make a purchase, and all packaging is tamper-proof, the team said.

The team also discussed a variety of community commitments, which include providing a five figure annual contribution to the South End and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities in the city, to “bring about awareness of the lack thereof of Black businesses” in the cannabis industry and in “affluent” neighborhoods in Boston. The team will also prioritize hiring South End residents, with a goal of hiring 75 percent South Enders. All employees will be required to participate in community service days, and the team will continue to engage in communication with members of the South End Community.

Omoroghomwan said that the team also operates Zip Run, a cannabis delivery warehouse, so they have entrepreneurial experience. They are also looking to create programs and incentives for employees, as well as “partner with local organizations.”

The team said that aside from hiring 75 percent of employees from the South End, 100 percent will be Boston residents, 50 percent will be people who are BIPOC, and 50 percent will be women. Salaries will start at $18 an hour, and employees will be provided with monthly MBTA and BlueBikes passes, as well as credits for ridesharing apps and access to mentorship programs.

The team also said that there will be a monthly cleanup crew for Wellington Green and other surrounding parks, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been sent to Bob Barney of the Claremont Neighborhood Association to “ensure we adhere to the concerns of the community and keep an open dialogue.”

During the public comment, concerns ranged from traffic and parking issues to the location of this dispensary.

Bob Barney, president of the Claremont Neighborhood Association, said that one of his “main concerns” is that this dispensary is cited in a “multi-use building” that has nine residential units and five commercial spaces. He said he has concerns regarding “full alignment” with the condo association, as this had been an issue with a previous cannabis proposal in another part of the neighborhood. He said he would like to ensure there is agreement between all parties before this moves forward.

Steve Fox of the South End Forum said that “the idea of an MOU is something that was invented in the South End,” and was used for the Albany St. cannabis location. He said that the community would “like to be consistent” when it comes to ensuring community concerns are addressed for any cannabis location in the neighborhood.

Karen Hohler, a resident at 545 Columbus Ave., said she has concerns about the parking and loading zone, as it is located in front of her home.

“We are a multigenerational family home,” she said, and her young grandchildren are constantly coming and going from the location. She said she is worried about the “security” for the dropoff of the product, and she also has general concerns about parking.

The team said that per the Cannabis Control Commission, a member of the Sweet & Sour team is required to check in with the delivery person to ensure that the delivery happens properly. It is not an armed security guard or anything of the sort, they said.

On the parking concern, the team said they understand the concerns and that’s why they will have the traffic agent on site to ensure there will be no double parking in the general area around the store.

In the chat, resident Cris Moneyron said that “My first concern is that a cannabis dispensary isn’t as beneficial for the community as the Harriet Tubman center was or something else could be. My other concern is the location. From what I’ve heard, there are already several other dispensaries in the neighborhood with the closest being 1/2 mile away. Also, I am concerned about the impact it will have being so close to the troubled Mass/Cass intersection. I hope you can understand my thoughts as a local South End resident.”

Others also commented about their concerns for this particular location as well, but some, like Adam Tewdrose, said that “young professionals buy condos, and young professionals buy cannabis. I think this can be positive for property values.”

Anyone with questions or comments about this proposal can reach out to the mayor’s South End liaison, Kim Crucioli, at [email protected] or at 617-635-4517.

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