The Zoning Board of Appeal finally upheld the city's prohibition against clustered cannabis concerns, denying an Arizona company's proposal to turn a former pasta plant on Hyde Park Avenue into a marijuana manufacturing plant, retail shop and medical dispensary just a few doors down from where three people from Roslindale and Roxbury have city approval for their own shop.
However, the board denied the request from Harvest, Inc., of Tempe, AZ, without prejudice, which means the company can come back with a new proposal. The company's local attorney, Mike Ross, said he would come back with revised plans.
Harvest proposed turning the former Serino's building, across from the America's Food Basket strip mall, into a new facility that would employ up to 100 people who would take in raw cannabis grown elsewhere and turn that into a variety of marijuana products that would be sold both to adult-use and medical customers. Some 3,000 square feet at the front of the building, along Hyde Park Avenue, would be turned into a community room.
The Boston Cannabis Board has approved the proposal - along with a smaller retail-only shop proposed by the local concern, Evergreen Farms.
Ross acknowledged the buffer zone issue, which both the Boston Cannabis Board and the zoning board have overturned a number of times in recent months, including with Harvest's proposal, but said his client's proposal was unique enough to warrant ignoring it in this case in part because the new facility would bring back manufacturing jobs to a neighborhood once known for them, employing union members making a minimum of $18.50 an hour. But he also noted that even if that were not an issue the board has recently approved a number of relatively close proposed shops.
Harvest also proposed using 3,000 square feet of the old Serino's building along Hyde Park Avenue as a community room, where the union would do marijuana-industry job training, and which would be available for use by Hyde Park groups. Ross added doing this - and putting the retail space on the side of the building, would shield people driving down Hyde Park Avenue from having to see a marijuana shop "screaming out" right on the neighborhood's main street.
Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo asked why Harvest needed retail as part of its plans rather than working out a deal with the would-be competitors to handle the retail aspect. Ross said the "multi-million-dollar proposal" just would not work without the revenue from retail.
Still, Ross said he had reached out several times to Sean Berte, Armani White and Jillian Domenici, who want to open up their 2,000-square-foot Evergreen Farms retail store just down the street, about possible ways to cooperate - including letting the smaller shop use parking at the Harvest site and even supplying it with marijuana products at wholesale costs, something he said would be invaluable given how difficult it currently is for startups to acquire marijuana.
But White, who like Berte is an "equity" applicant - in his case because he's black and because, like Berte, has a past marijuana conviction - said he and his partners concluded, "we are unable to survive with a giant business right next to us."
The Boston Cannabis Board initially rejected Harvest's proposal but then voted to approve it after the company said it had signed a union contract with above-minimum-wage salaries for prospective workers in Hyde Park.
Zoning board members, though, said their issues centered on land use, not wages - and the questions centered on the large community space.
"God bless [the union] and you doing training," board member March Erlich said, adding, though, he was puzzled how, in a city with such high property values, Harvest could economically afford to basically give away a large chunk of its building to community use. "I'm just sort of baffled by the whole proposal," he said.
The mayor's office supported the proposal.
City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, who represents Hyde Park, and at-large Councilors Michael Flaherty and Annissa Essaibi George, however, objected. An aide to Flaherty said the half-mile buffer zone - which Flaherty initially proposed - was intended to keep any one neighborhood from becoming overburdened with cannabis shops. He added that in this case, the fact that one applicant has local "equity" owners while the other is an out-of-state concern that does not, should also be taken into account.
Jim Kirker, president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, said his group unanimously apposed the Harvest proposal, in part because of the clustering issue. He said he even found a possible space for Harvest in another location, down Hyde Park Avenue near Readville, but the company was not interested.