Neighborhood boundaries come into play on controversial marijuana store

More than a few Fenwickians would appreciate the Back Bay staying out of their controversies, particularly on a controversial marijuana shop that the Fenway is against – but somehow the Back Bay, which has been wary of marijuana stores, is seemingly all for.
Cyprus Tree has proposed last Thursday at the Boston Cannabis Board (BCB) a marijuana adult-use store at 1114 Boylston St. (formerly Little Stevie’s Pizza) on the campus of Berklee College of Music, firmly located within the Fenway neighborhood – or at least that’s what some thought.
“The Fenway Civic is opposed to this application,” said Tim Horn, president of Fenway Civic. “It is surprisingly in the middle of one of our finer institutions of higher learning and immediately down from where we removed a liquor store use a few years ago. This is the Fenway; it’s not the Back Bay or in anyone’s catchment basket. We don’t need more proposals. Already we have three in Fenway…It’s really not the appropriate place.”
One of the issues is that some in the Fenway believe the Back Bay is trying to flood their neighborhood with marijuana proposals in an effort to keep any out of their main shopping district.
“The Fenway has seen four proposals, one of which has gone through the state process and will open next spring,” said Marie Fukada of Fenway. “We are 1.45 miles total area. The math means there are far more than one per half-mile, while Back Bay is much larger geographically, but can essentially push their sites away by the placement of one Fenway establishment on their periphery. What I would say is that I would never dream of attending a dispensary hearing outside of my neighborhood and voicing support for it because it pushes a Fenway dispensary out of the running. Again, where is the criteria that establishes how many dispensaries any one neighborhood needs?”
But there were many in the Back Bay and Bay Village that seemed to support the proposal at the Fenway location- though the Back Bay has admittedly been opposed to marijuana siting, as Meg Mainzer Cohen of the Back Bay Association (BBA) said in her supportive comments for Cyprus Tree.
“The BBA has been very, very targeted around trying to find the right locations for marijuana dispensaries in our neighborhood,” she said. “We’ve been on record saying we are in favor of one in the Back Bay area and this is in our catch basin (sic catchment) area and we did want to go on record with our support of it. We believe in order for this industry to be a success dispensaries have to be dispersed throughout the neighborhoods. That’s why we are looking very carefully at areas where we support the location and support the operation and we think there is enough public transportation…That’s been our general opinion and Cyprus Tree hits all those marks. We do understand it sounds like folks in the Fenway are opposed to that, but we think it’s important to know the BBA has been completely opposed to marijuana in general rule, but we are trying very hard to find the right locations…We are in support of Cyprus Tree.”
However, it did seem to be that they maybe had overplayed their hand.
The Mayor’s Office went on record opposing the measure due to location, which was a strong statement.
“The applicant has submitted approximately 70 letters of support this week, while prior to this our records reflected substantial opposition from the community,” said Mayoral Liaison Shanice Pimentel. “However, after reviewing the submitted letters we believe the neighbors have spoken substantially and passionately in opposition to the proposal because of location. Notably, letters of opposition include the Fenway Civic Association, Berklee College and St. Clement’s Church. The community feels this location is not appropriate…Given this information, the Mayor’s Office will be going on record in opposition.”
Berklee College of Music also expressed its major opposition also, with Berklee’s Robert Chambers saying there is no other institution of higher learning in Boston that has a marijuana store in the middle of its campus.
“Berklee College of Music expresses unconditional opposition to the licensing of an adult-use cannabis establishment at 1114 Boylston Street,” he said. “We believe this establishment and this location would have a long-lasting detrimental effect on the Berklee community as well as that of the surrounding neighborhood community. First and foremost, to our knowledge, no institution of higher learning in the City of Boston has a dispensary located within its campus.”
That said, there was plenty of support from Boston residents living outside of the Fenway, including in Back Bay, Bay Village, Mattapan and even Charlestown. For many at the neighborhood level, it brought up the question of whose opinion matters most in a citywide marijuana siting process – those living closest to it or those from other parts of the city but still living in Boston.
That hasn’t been clear, and last week, Councilor Michelle Wu in a neighborhood news roundtable said this situation – and others around the city – have highlighted the problems with marijuana licensing decisions.
“It has put the burden unfairly on entrepreneurs and then put neighborhoods and communities in the position once again to fight something without any mechanism to give feedback on what a better alternative would be,” she said. “We’re seeing that playing out in Charlestown, and we’ve seen that happen in East Boston and Roxbury. All across the City it’s the same dynamic.”
She said a better way of doing things would have been to appropriately zone areas for marijuana and let business people make their decisions.
“We should have set up this system based on planning, where the City could have identified the spaces or locations that make sense for this type of business to exist – just like should happen through the city-wide planning process on land uses of any kind and then codify that into the zoning code and let business people make their decisions based on that,” she said. “Instead there is a political competition that is extremely costly…”
The BCB took the matter under advisement, but noted there could be a vote on the proposal as soon as this week. It is being proposed by Carlos Castillo, Victor Chiang, Todd Finard, Eric Liebman. Former Councilor Josh Zakim is the attorney for the proposal.

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