It was the beatdown everyone knew was coming.
But as process dictates, it was a civic pummeling prescribed by law.
Compassionate Organics held its long-awaited statutory community meeting on Wednesday., Jan. 9, at the AC Hotel Ink Block and faced a crowd of more than 200 people who unanimously opposed the siting of a medical marijuana facility at 633 Tremont St. – in the heart of the Pilot Block neighborhood/business district.
There were hisses, jeers, a community “Awwwww” in unison, and even a Robert Frost poem recited in opposition of the project by abutter, and former teacher, Jean Gibran.
But more than anything, it was a crowd overwhelmingly against the proposal – with only about three people rising in support.
Contrastingly, more than 30 people spoke individually to oppose the plan.
The question of the night, however, came from Cinda Stoner – who like everyone else – wondered why the proponents chose that location in Pilot Block and what they would do now.
“I’ve lived here long enough to know that a [dispensary] at the location in that neighborhood would get the reaction that you got here tonight,” she said. “Did you know the neighborhood well enough before you made a decision to move into this neighborhood? What are your plans to overcome this opposition?”
Certainly, after the first hour of opposition came to the project, that was the question everyone in the room wondered. With a huge turnout from the Pilot Block neighborhood and the Worcester Square neighborhood, most wondered if there was a path to victory.
Attorney Michael Ross said they would move forward, and he said that while the room didn’t support it, maybe the community did.
“I would love this room to be filled with overwhelming joy and happiness,” he said. “There are 50,000 people in the South End…I think this is a great proposal and it would probably be a situation where five years from now, you would run into me and say it turned out to be a non-issue. There is a lot of opposition in this room. We didn’t come here to get picked on. We wanted to make our case. I think it’s a good proposal.”
Earlier, after another such question where it was alleged that Compassionate didn’t care about abutters, he said that maybe everyone was tired and it was pick on the presenter time.
That’s where the community “Awwwwww!” came from the crowd, with hundreds of people mocking his statement.
“We’re going to go forward,” he said. “We might win or we might lose. It’s not that we don’t care about you or the neighbors. People in this room are against this. The neighborhood, though, voted 80 percent in favor of medical marijuana.”
The project was proposed for the storefront on Tremont as the owners believe that it would be a boutique, small store that would start as medical marijuana. Owner Geoff Reilinger has promised that he wouldn’t try to convert to recreational marijuana until at least six months into operation – which for all intents and purposes would be nearly two years from now. That was so the neighbors could observe how he operated, and then make their decision based on a track record.
The location was secured about a year ago, and was chosen under some difficulty – which is the case for most all such marijuana sites. Since marijuana is still illegal federally, any building with a mortgage cannot rent to such a store. Instead, proponents have to find a building without a mortgage and one that fits within the zoning regulations.
In the South End, there are two proposals – this one and Liberty on Albany Street. One of the key points from those who oppose the store on Tremont is that it is a ‘Forbidden Use’ within the zoning, while the other proposal on Albany is not.
State Reps. Aaron Michlewitz and Jon Santiago were both against the proposal, as was Councilor Ed Flynn. All led off the meeting with decidedly opposed stances – which set the stage for the large numbers of neighbors who were against of it.
“I’m against the proposal,” said Flynn. “My job as an elected official is to take these stands. Quality-of -ife issues are our top concerns. We represent the people. I’m against this proposal because of pedestrian safety, traffic and the day care center across the street.”
Most of the neighbors were abutters, such as South End photographer Rick Friedman, who was adamantly against it. He said the logistics would never work out at that location.
“People double park at the Starbucks all the time,” he said. “The fire trucks can’t get by. The school buses can’t get by. The people don’t come out to move…That is one of the really huge issues. The alley is another issue. Interestingly, every restaurant and business, like you, said they wouldn’t use the back door and alley. Once they’re in, they all use the back door…We spent a long time trying to clean up that alley. There was a log of drug use and crime in that alley…This isn’t the right place. We live on top of each other. This is just the wrong location.”
John Woodman of West Brookline Street shared the sentiments of many neighbors regarding the traffic and double-parking that would happen on the side streets – particularly if the store’s security asked such people to move along.
“This is a medical marijuana shop, but it’s destined to be a recreational shop,” he said. “You’re going to have so many Uber drivers there. If you shoo them away from that store, those drivers are going to be coming through all the side streets and double-parking or circling there. I live on West Brookline and I’m sorry, but I have double-parked on West Canton to go to Starbucks. It’s going to happen.”
Richard Atkinson, a doctor who lives in the South End, was one of the few in favor of the proposal.
“I don’t think the people here voted in favor of medical marijuana did so with a not-in-my-backyard provision,” he said, as hisses rained down from the audience. “We will never have the access we need if everyone doesn’t want it in their backyard. I have a CVS on my block and there are much more dangerous substances coming out of that store that can kill people.”
Liz Blatt, an abutter on Tremont, said she envisions people sitting on her steps after leaving the store.
“I already get people from the Starbucks and the liquor store there, and I know your plastic packaging is going to be in my front yard all the time,” she said.
Ed Maguire of the City said all proposals have a right to go through the zoning process, and while there is opposition to this one, they do have a right to proceed. In fact, he said he hasn’t been to a meeting yet where there wasn’t opposition. “There hasn’t been a meeting yet where it hasn’t been about like this,” he said. “Even with the vote…I haven’t seen any overwhelming support for any proposal.”