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.