Confusion, anger in East Boston and City Hall as mayor's office approves two pot shops closer to each other than allowed by law

A decision by the mayor's office to approve two marijuana shops less than a half mile apart - in potential violation of a city ordinance - sparked an unusually volatile Zoning Board of Appeal meeting today, during which the board chairman slammed his gavel to the table to restore order at one point, not long after he yelled at a city councilor that she was out of order.

Placed in a precarious legal position by the mayor's office, the board voted to approve a Pittsfield corporation's proposal for a recreational and medicinal marijuana shop at 251 Meridan St. in Central Square, then was poised to vote to reject a proposal by a group of East Boston businessmen for a recreational pot shop just 0.4 miles away at 71 Maverick Sq., because of the distance issue.

But the board agreed to defer action on that proposal to give that team time to come up with a formal legal answer to the half-mile issue - enshrined in an ordinance approved by the city council, then approved by Mayor Walsh.

East Boston Bloom, LLC, will try to convince the board it deserves approval for its Maverick Square shop on April 9.

The board's approval of Berkshire Roots's plan for Meridian St. does not mean that company can begin dealing pot - it just lets it apply to the state Cannabis Control Commission for a license.

"We are put in a pretty ridiculous situation here," acting ZBA Chairman Mark Erlich said. At one point, he asked the mayor's neighborhood liaison if the mayor's office had really signed "host community agreements" with two competing concerns just a short walk down Meridian Street from each other.

"Yes," the aide replied.

"I'm really, really sorry to see this has happened," Erlich told residents.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End), though, was far more livid, both at the mayor's office for making the board even have to make the choice and at the board for granting its approval to the Central Square proposal first, simply because it was one position higher on the board's agenda for today.

"it's disgusting," she said, and all due to Mayor Walsh's office refusing to own up to a mistake that nobody with access to Google Maps should have made. And the board should have deferred action on the Pittsfield concern's application as well, she said. "It's offensive, offensive."

Edwards backed the Maverick Square proposal because it would have local owners who include members of minority groups and a veteran and because it was in Maverick Square, which is well served by public transit.

But she implored the board, if it approved the Central Square proposal, rather than ordering it deferred, it needed to approve the Maverick Square shop as well, even though that could mean what she said would be "many, many months, if not years" of court battles, because it would essentially reflect a nullification of the city ordinance, which would lead to lawsuits by applicants all across the city who have been dissuaded from applying for approval because of the distance issue.

Before the board had a chance to vote on a motion by member Craig Galvin to deny the Maverick Square proposal, East Boston Blooms - whose team includes former City Councilor Sal LaMattina - offered a possible solution: The ordinance refers to the distance between "existing" marijuana facilities, which means it would not be a violation to approve their proposal also, since the Central Square facility isn't open. Then, they said, it would be up to the state commission to decide the matter.

Galvin then changed his proposal from "deny" to "defer" and the board voted unanimously in support - absent member Bruce Bickerstaff, who has been recusing himself from all marijuana-related hearings because he is himself a part owner of a concern looking to get into the Boston marijuana market.

On the merits of each case, a number of residents brought up the usual concerns about children, drug addicts and alcoholics being tempted by pot shops, as well as about traffic in a neighborhood already clogged with it.

Central Square residents said they were particularly concerned about traffic both because there's no place for the Berkshire Roots van to make its deliveries but to sit in the bus stop right out front two or three times a week, for what the company acknowledged could be up to 20 minutes at a time. Another issue: People getting off planes at Logan would call up Weedmaps, see the Central Square location and direct their Uber or Lyft drivers to make a quick stop there before heading off to the rest of the city.

One Maverick Square resident, though, said her part of East Boston has the worst traffic.

The two hearings, one right after the other, grew occasionally heated. When one resident said he felt the board should know that one of the Maverick Square principals - actually two - were trying to open a strip club in western Massachusetts, Erlich had enough. He slammed his gavel - of course the zoning-board chairman has a gavel - to the table several times and told the man to stop. "This is ridiculous! This is ridiculous!"

Then Erlich and Edwards got into it. Edwards, who had spoken during the time for people who favored the Maverick Square proposal, got in line during the opponents' time, to rebut a resident who questioned her support for the proposal. Erlich tried to get her to sit down, saying she'd already spoken in favor and doubted she was rising to now join the opposition. When Edwards continued to speak, Erlich told her: "You're out of order!"

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sound like

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these people could have used a little toke themselves

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Voting closed 24

Sometimes I go to get a bite

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Sometimes I go to get a bite in Maverick SQ I enjoy a burrito at TexMex one of my favorite places since the time they opened up more than 25 years ago , when this pot shop opens I may have to park the car blocks away and walk to get a burrito and some chips “to go” pot heads will definitely hog up every available parking space in Maverick Sq, wait until they build 9 Chelsea Street the building will provide no parking , another project passed and approved by Boston redevelopment “we approve everything “ authority.
It’s definitely time to consider to build a parking garage underneath the Boston harbor right behind Maverick station .

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Voting closed 3

OMG THE WORLD WILL END

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OMG THE WORLD WILL END OF TWO POT SHOPS OPEN TOO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER

Give me a fucking break will ya CIty of Boston

Yet no word on the 23948230948230948230945 liquor stores near each other. Nothing to see here, nothing to see.

Booze = OK to open right next to each other
Pot = Not OK

WHY IS THIS LIKE THIS? (wait I know why.... stupid politicians who lick Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" pumps still)

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Voting closed 52

Look pal

I love picking nip bottles out of my front hedge every single fucking week and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit by and let a bunch of reefer mad hippies destroy our beautiful city. Don't you know there are CHILDREN in the city? Do you not care about their impressionable minds being warped by the demon weed?

However, Walsh is clown car mayor and this idiocy proves it. I eagerly await someone to figure out just how the shop that was randomly approved first is connected to Marty's cousins brother or Joyce Linehan's uncle or some other City Hall sleaze.

EDIT - I had 30 seconds so did a search on MA greatest website - https://www.ocpf.us/Reports/SearchItems

One of the main investors in Berkshire Roots is Matthew C Feeney of Boston who donated $1000 to Marty J Walsh in January 2019. Bingo. Another investor Nuciforo, Andrea donated $200 to Walsh and some other presumably related Nuciforo donated $500, also in January. A third primary investor, one Albert S. Wojtkowski donated $750 in January.

Source - https://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/harvest-time-at-berkshire-countys...

So all told Marty got $2500 from the winning applicants in January 2019.

But what about East Boston Blooms you may ask? Let's check it out. Main investors are Luis Vasco, Steven Vasco, Nick Spagnola, and Julis Soko. In December Luis gave Edwards $150, Nick gave her $250, Julis gave her $500 and Steven, clearly not a team player, gave her nothing.

All told Lydia got $900 from the losing side which is probably apt given how this played out.

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Voting closed 38

Sokol is an interesting person

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In addition to his western-Mass. activities, he's also involved in the group that bought up all those dive bars last year (like Mary Ann's and the Tam).

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Voting closed 45

landlord

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He's also my landlord, and owns/co-owns a bunch of units in East Boston as well as under "Lokos Realty". He's pretty good for an East Boston landlord in my experience.

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Voting closed 1

Rule of law, baby

The place to address one's disagreement with the "not within a half mile of each other" provision of the law is in the drafting of the law, not in the application process.

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Voting closed 13

Well, Baker and the

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Well, Baker and the legislature quickly changed the parts of the law they didnt like (including extending the period to 18 months before any shops could open since they realized they were not as competent as other states that opened in less time). Since they decided they could change it, the parts they left like the 1/2 mile separating businesses is on Baker/legislature as much or more than anyone else.

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Voting closed 5

Baker has nothing to do with this

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The half-mile thing is a city of Boston ordinance, so it would be up to the mayor and the city council (and, I think, the zoning commission - which is different from the zoning board) to change. You might be thinking of the state rule that marijuana shops be at least 500 feet from a school.

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Voting closed 4

The place to address one's disagreement

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...the drafting of the law, not in the application process.

You mean like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in place of ratifying new immigration law?

<tag>trumpland</tag>

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Voting closed 2

Where is Whatley, Mass. and

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Where is Whatley, Mass. and how much would an Uber cost to get there from Logan after my friend made a quick stop in Central Square? Asking for that very same friend.

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Voting closed 6

Whately Eastie coincidence

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Interestingly (to me at least), the other Whately institution besides the castaway is the Whately Diner. A classic 24 hour diner known to anyone that went to UMass. It was once called The Maverick.

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Voting closed 3

The Whately Ballet

has been operating for decades. These guys aren't trying to start it, just buy it.

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Voting closed 0

38% turnout

Everybody sit at home with your (expletive) in your hand again next election. Keep sucking.

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Voting closed 13

I Love Volatile Board Hearings

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They're almost always completely dry and
cold blooded. Even when peoples lives are being deliberated. It's good to get the sparks flying every now and then. Extra points for an escort to the exit by security. Or getting press that includes the words 'heated' or 'rancorous'.

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Voting closed 5

Manufactured problem

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The ZHA was told explicitly there were two pot shops on the agenda with a half mile over two weeks ago and again in the meeting today. They intentionally moved forward anyway and approved the first proposal. They then claimed to be a victim of the process, when apparently to their surprise, the next agenda item was another shop less than a half mile from the previous one. What a joke. It shows gross negligence.

The clear move here was to delay hearing both proposals until they could get clarification. Instead, they choose to manufacture a crisis.

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Voting closed 21

Sorry, but . . .

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The ZBA was completely within its prerogative to approve the first but not the second proposal. And frankly, I believe that the proposal that was passed (on Meridian St.) has actually been in the pipeline longer than the Maverick Square proposal - or at least, when I first heard of the Maverick Square proposal, I learned there was already a proposal in the works for Meridian St. So really, common sense would dictate that the Meridian St. proposal be considered first, and then the Maverick Square proposal per force rejected. Your position would only lead to the Maverick Square proposal never making it to the docket at all, it seems. I think this was an accidental outcome, but was still a good one - the Meridian St. site is better for East Boston overall, despite the understandable opposition of its neighbors.

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Voting closed 3

Assuming we actually need the

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Assuming we actually need the law keeping pot places a half mile apart, what should be te process for choosing who gets approved? Whoever gets their application in first on the day and time applications open? Whoever the board decides is better? By what measure?

I'm not a fan of favoring certain people based on subjective criteria like the town they live in.

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Voting closed 6

simple

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It's whoever yays the most, or has the most friends aligned with, Marty Walsh.

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Voting closed 2

That city ordinance was a

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That city ordinance was a NIMBY mistake from the get-go. No surprise since its champion was Councilor Flaherty. Keep the shops off the same block certainly, but a half-mile is too large a distance in a dense urban setting. It has created a first-to-approval feeding frenzy for territorial monopolies.

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Voting closed 7

Eastie ZBA

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Would you say more entertaining than a Mel Willens meeting?

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Voting closed 3

Oh, man, that's going way, way back

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For the 99% of people reading this who have no idea what this is about, back in my cub-reporter days at the ol' Middlesex News in Framingham, Mel Willens was a Natick selectman who was a very nice guy but who sometimes wound up saying stuff like "If I'd known what I was voting for, I would have voted against myself."

He also once gave me a bottle of Crown Royal for Channukah or Christmas or something, which another reporter and I half finished off one night in the newspaper cafeteria (don't worry, I didn't drive home for a few hours afterwards). Hmm, the next year, he gave me and a certain columnist these giant gift baskets loaded with tons of fruit and five-pound bags of pistachios. We drove the baskets down to the Salvation Army food pantry - but I admit I kept my five-pound bag of pistachios.

For the record, no Boston official has ever tried to give me a bottle of whiskey or a giant fruit basket.

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Voting closed 5