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Board rejects replacing an LGBTQ sports bar in the South End with a marijuana shop

The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a plans to replace Cathedral Station, 1222 Washington St. in the South End, with a marijuana dispensary.

But that doesn't necessarily mean one of the city's few remaining LGBTQ-focused bars will stay open. Michael Ross, attorney for would-be dispensary operator Nike John, said his client didn't force Cathedral Station out; its owner wanted to retire. In chat for the Zoom hearing, though, Jeremy Cattani, who has worked at the bar since 2014, called that "misrepresentation" and said it's a rumor that John and Ross made up.

Following a long hearing, the board initially voted 4-3 to approve John's proposed Boston Garden dispensary, but zoning votes require at least five votes, so the vote lost. On a second motion, the board then voted 5-2 to reject her plans without prejudice - which means she can re-apply for the conditional-use permit she needs within a year. Or she could sue in Suffolk Superior Court to seek to "annul" the vote.

Board members Norm Stembridge, Katie Whewell, Jeanne Pinado and Dave Collins initially voted in favor, while Gio Valencia, David Aiken and Chairwoman Sherry Dong voted against. On the second vote, to deny, Stembridge, Valencia, Collins, Aiken and Dong voted yes, Whewell and Pinado voted no.

The hearing brought opposition from both elected officials and residents on several fronts: The pot shop would replace a beloved "safe space" for the LGBTQ community at a time when it is increasingly under attack across the country, it would provide too much of an enticement for all the kids who congregate at Peters Park and all the addicts at Mass and Cass and Pine Street Inn, and would put both kids in nearby daycares and people going to the SOWA market at risk.

"The loss of another center of our culture would be tragic," state Rep. John Moran (D-9th), who is gay, said. He called the location, across Washington Street from the park and near several schools and daycare centers "very troubling" and added that what really "sickens me" is what he said was evidence that John wants to get approval for the shop and then sell it for as much as $5 million. "That is not the intent of the equity program," he said, referring to the preferential treatment John gets in the process for marijuana licenses because she is Black.

Through aides, City Councilors Ed Flynn (South End, South Boston, Chinatown, downtown) and Michael Flaherty (at large) also opposed the dispensary request.

Residents voiced similar concerns.

Raul Gonzalez, who lives on West Dedham Street, echoed Moran's comments and noted all the LGBTQ venues that have closed in recent years, including Machine in the Fenway and the Eagle in the South End.

South End resident and developer Mario Nicosia, who helped coin the name SOWA, said that in his six decades of going to community meetings, "I've never seen the neighborhood so in sync against something" as it is against the dispensary.

"Even the dogs at Peters Park took a vote and they don't want this," he said.

One resident, Jennifer Grella of Harrison Avenue, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1988, did support the proposal, saying John had proven to be a serious business operator who would clean up the property and surrounding block. She said the concerns about schools and Mass and Cass, when there's already another dispensary even closer to that area, are nothing but "NIMBYism at its worse."

Ross said it's hardly his client's fault that the bar's owner wants to retire - or her responsibility to figure out what to do about that - and that the ward and precinct in which the dispensary would sit overwhelmingly voted in favor of recreational marijuana use in 2016. Of course, he said, the 20 people who opposed it would show up at a hearing on his client's proposal - although the mayor's South End liaison told the board that her office had gotten 100 letters opposed to the proposal and just 7 in favor.

Ross continued that Washington Street is a heavily trafficked road with four travel lanes and two parking lanes, so it's not like it's easy to get to the park and there have been no problems at a dispensary about a half mile from Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. He denied his client is about to sell out, noting she has operated a dispensary in Charlestown for 13 months now. He also denied rumors that she wants to open a cafe where customers could toke away, saying that those don't even exist yet, but that she would be amendable to a condition in zoning approval not letting her open such an addition.

Pinato moved to approve the proposal, saying that while she understands the opposition, the board typically defers to the Boston Cannabis Board, which approved the proposal earlier this year. Whewell said she was voting strictly on zoning issues and she saw no reasons that would merit denying a conditional-use permit. Valencia, however, after noting the board has approved most cannabis applications, said he could not support this one because of the location across the street from a park and the concerns about the loss of Cathedral Station.

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Comments

My late mother was very impressed by him. She thought he'd be mayor or more some day.

Oh well, Boston politics seeks its own level.

Isn't there enough skunk smell in the street and general estupification already?

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I was wondering if this was the same Michael Ross that was a former City Councilor.

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Same guy.

After he quit the council to run for mayor and lost, he went into zoning/regulatory law, with a focus on marijuana. His successor, Josh Zakim, then did the same thing (except while Ross is still doing it as a lawyer, Zakim now has his own pot-shop proposal). Zakim's successor, Kenzie Bok, though, broke the chain - she's now head of the BHA (also, not a lawyer).

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I had a few meetings with Ross as a councilor. He wasn’t bad at that job, but him becoming a lobbyist doesn’t surprise me one bit.

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"The loss of another center of our culture would be tragic," state Rep. John Moran (D-9th), who is gay, said. He called the location, across Washington Street from the park and near several schools and daycare centers "very troubling"

the concerns about the loss of Cathedral Station

I'm a gay dude. I've frequented Cathedral Station myself. I am sad that it is closing but for the love of god people, forbidding something else from opening up in its space that isn't a bar, is NOT going to bring the business back.

So now this space will just sit empty and be another blighted building while the owner tries to find a new tenant... who may be met with equal or greater NIMBYism.

I'd love to poll every person who spoke up or wrote in letters against this being here and ask them "So when was the last time you were inside Cathedral Station". I'm willing to place a bet that less than 50% of those people have been there in the past year. I'd even say it was closer to 25%.

Gay Bars aren't closing b/c of big mean developers. They are closing because gay life has changed, going out isn't as big of a thing anymore because most people went to bars to hook up. Now there's apps for that.

I was a regular at the RamRod and Machine for many years, and stopped going out for a while. I went there a few months before it closed and you could blow wind thru the place. The bars are closing for lack of business, so a developer comes along and offers the owner a whole lot more money than they were making in the bar.

If you were older, and had been pouring your life into working at a bar for 20+ years, and someone offered you a few million for it. Wouldn't you just take it? People don't run businesses for the good of things, they run business to make money. They won't operate at a loss just because community wants it. Plain and simple.

I'm sad to see many of the bars I used to frequent close up. Boston's gay nightlife is abysmal now. But when you go, and the bar isn't busy on a Friday night, people are simply just not going to bars anymore.

You want bars to survive, you have to attend and patronize them.

Mario Nicosia, who helped coin the name SOWA,

Great now I know where to send my hate mail. His opinion is invalid, just for giving us that stupid marketing name.

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This whole thing has been riddled with rumors and silliness for the longest time. I really wanted Cathedral Station to stay open, but it seems clear to me that management is telling employees at the bar one thing and the pot shop people another and that the stuff they’re telling the bar staff is not true. I would love to be wrong.

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I agree. there's something shifty going on. But then again the gay gossip mill is harsh... telegraph, telephone, tell-a-queen.

But to be fair, I used to know people involved with ownership the bar when it converted from the Red Fez.

But I remember when this place opened as the place to go to replace Fritz. And I remember there being a shelf life to Cathedral Station. It was never meant to be permanent from the owners standpoint. And I remember hearing 7 years. And this place has been open for 10. So its past due on its ownership shelf life.

And if I recall, the person I am thinking of only was in it for that amount of time because they wanted to retire. (and if its the person I am thinking of, they seriously need to)

So I am not surprised it was closing. I knew it never was going to last.. years ago.

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I also didn't want Cathedral to close - but it's also interesting that knowing about all the opposition to the current tenant closing didn't get them to pursue the 4-5 other vacant storefronts a stone's throw away.

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As a gay man, I’m sad Cathedral Station will be closing. The gays have moved to Dorchester and there are a couple gay bars there, geared toward younger crowds (blend and dbar) and are usually packed. Times change, I guess!

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you know I suffer from TL;DR articles in my writing.. but this is another point.

dbar has been around for a looong time now. And they are still going strong. They also double as a restaurant, which helps offset the bar costs and brings in people. (Club Cafe has been doing this for years so they get a similar effect of the bar+kitchen).

Outside of the food aspect, what makes dbar great is its near patrons that want to go it. The South End.. not so much anymore. tbh I don't think of the SE as the 'gayborhood' anymore at all. I don't think of Dot as it either, but I know a hellva alot more gay ppl who live in Dot and JP than I do in the South End.

Blend I hear is good.. I know one of the resident DJs and he's been asking me to come see him forever and a day. (it is a trek for me from Chelsealand) But I am sure it thrives because of where it is...

One other thing is.. The Alley vs Cathedral. Similar crowds. But The Alley still thrives because us bears have nowhere to go now (since the ramrod closed), but the validated parking in the garage above it and close proximity to DTX (the T) and it being an afterwork sorta bar if you work downtown... helps alot. Esp the out of town folks. Cathedral only had street parking.

I know dbar has decent parking, so that helps too.

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Several years ago JP real estate agents in JP wanted to christen the area south of the monument as SOMO. That balloon of marketing received a well earned bit of mockery and laughter before it deflated.

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But just like when Fritz closed, we found a new spot. Fortunately, Dani's Queer Bar on Boylston is soon to open so we can go there and support them in their new endeavors. Sure, it's going to have a Sapphic theme but I think they're going to need to boys to help them with revenue.

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Won't walk over a mile to purchase taxable 420. They just won't...

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I was told the Cathedral Station owner is thinking of retiring at some point, but hasn’t committed to any particular date, so remains a month to month tenant. The landlord, apparently wants to charge an exorbitantly high rent and that prevents the CS owner from signing a long term lease. Enter cannabis operator with talk of high end clientele who have money to burn (literally). Sure, some people don’t think an LGBTQ+ “safe space” is as important as it used to be because the world has evolved. Others, however, lament Cathedral Station’s eventual closure.

NIMBYism has nothing to do with why neighborhood residents opposed the proposal. It was all about the location-directly across the street from a large park that welcomes young children, dogs playing at the dog park (cannabis is toxic to dogs), the home of South End Little League which provides opportunities for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, nearby daycare centers, Cathedral High School, and Pine Street Inn which has numerous sober programs for people in recovery. The park is already troubled by unwelcome smokers and users of other drugs. The surrounding neighborhood reeks of cannabis, people walk, drive and sit at Peters Park while smoking. How much more convenient could it be for people to buy cannabis at a dispensary and walk across the street to smoke it?

The most questionable part was the equity applicant’s loss of financial backer and advertisement for a new one, with the option to buy her out—I believe the details were something to the effect of her leaving after 18 months for a $5 million dollar payout. Where is the important face of an equity applicant in the community if that applicant is interested in selling out (and to whom—an unknown investor?). Too many holes in that plan, along with greed and poor initial judgment to approve by the Zoning Board.

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Have you ever bought legal cannabis? Do you know anything about the procedures involved? Honestly, these fears sound to me like the scare stories about people giving out edibles to children at Halloween. No one's gonna buy their goodies and then throw them in the street.

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Washington St. doesn't have four travel lanes; it has two travel lanes and two bus/bike/turn lanes. Further, there's a crosswalk complete with curb bump-outs leading to Peters Park half a block from where Cathedral Station is now. People would obviously just cross the street to go smoke in the park.

I'm sorry to see that Cathy's might go away but I'm more surprised to see that the building isn't being replaced by 50 or so million-dollar condos.

Also, as equity applicants go, it seems like the equity ought to be spread around a bit more -- i.e. one granted license per applicant. She's already got one.

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Cathedral Station was a missed opportunity. Bad food and bad service. I think the owners have basically already retired.
Too bad,because the space and location were great!

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