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Saugus opposed to Lynn recreational marijuana proposal

LYNN — In a strange twist, it appears the biggest hurdle for a team seeking approval to operate a recreational pot shop in the city might be winning over the neighboring town of Saugus.

Jordan Avery, president and chief executive officer of Massachusetts Green Retail Inc., is seeking approval from the city for a recreational marijuana establishment at 829 Boston St., the former O’Brien’s Pub. The company is seeking to find a cultivator for the product, which is another requirement to open.

His company is leasing the space at the Boston Street facility, which it would share with the other tenant, Bianchi’s, a beloved pizza parlor and longtime staple on Revere Beach that is slated to open a second location in Lynn in two to three months.

“It’s a great location,” Avery said. “We’re excited. I’m honored to hopefully get to work with the city and form a strong working relationship … I always wanted to be a part of and give back to the community and this is my way of doing it.”

Avery also works as the director of security for Apothca Inc., which opened the city’s first and only medical marijuana facility on the Lynnway in November. The store will later add a recreational component.

Ward 7 City Councilor Jay Walsh said if a pot shop were to go anywhere in his ward, the proposed location at 829 Boston is probably the best bet with the least amount of impact to homes. There aren’t a lot of adjacent homes to the property.

“I think it’s the right location,” Walsh said. “We still have some things to work out as far as having a good plan for traffic.”

But it appears Lynn officials aren’t the ones Avery and his company need to impress. The wrinkle in the applicant’s proposed location is part of the parking lot is in Saugus.

Town Meeting members in Saugus voted unanimously last May to bar recreational marijuana establishments from operating anywhere in town, according to Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Saugus Board of Selectmen.

“My job as a selectman is to adhere to the will of the people,” Panetta said. “I don’t know at this point what we can or cannot do being the neighboring community, but a lot of people think the old O’Brien’s restaurant is in Saugus.

“All the work that was done, all (the representatives) of Town Meeting who voted against it — now putting it right on the border between Saugus and Lynn. I’d hope that Lynn would respect the wishes of Saugus. Me personally, I don’t want to see a pot shop there … You’re putting it in our backyard.”

A community meeting for the proposed pot shop was held on Thursday night and the proposal will be before the Recreational Cannabis Site Plan Review Committee of the Lynn City Council on Tuesday night.

If the committee gives the proposal the green light, there would need to be a neighborhood meeting held before the company could seek its special permit to operate from the City Council. The company would then need approval by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.

Panetta said she found out about the community meeting for the proposed pot shop on Wednesday and reached out to the town counsel for legal advice. She would consult further if the proposal would reach the City Council. She urged Lynn to be a good neighbor and was also concerned access to recreational marijuana would exacerbate the town’s existing opioid crisis.

“It’s difficult to comment right now because we don’t know how Lynn councilors feel about this,” Panetta said. “If and when this does move forward, we will have to decide what, if anything, the town of Saugus will do.”

James Lamanna, the attorney for the city of Lynn, said there could be a legal challenge from the town of Saugus. The town’s attorney has already called the city’s law department.

Lamanna said the applicant for the pot shop is fully aware part of the property is in Saugus, but he believes Massachusetts Green Retail would ultimately prevail legally as the building is fully in Lynn.  

During the community meeting, numerous Saugus residents and Town Meeting members spoke in opposition to the proposed shop, citing part of the property being located in town and its proximity to the Saugus River and the town’s rail trail. Residents were concerned customers would smoke on the trail.

Several residents were concerned about traffic, including Sonia Barros, who lives four houses down from the potential shop.

“Traffic has already been a pain for me to begin with without anything else going on,” Barros said. “This is not the right location for your business.”

Debra Breton, a nearby Saugus resident, said the shop is not a good idea.

“If people want drugs, they’re going to get drugs,” she said. “You’re making it too easy in this location.”

But Tiffany Gilmore, of Saugus, said she supported the proposed facility. She said marijuana can’t be put on the same level as opioids. High school kids smoke pot they get on the street on the rail trail, which is a lot less clean or safe than the product someone would get from a regulated recreational marijuana facility, she said.

Walsh and other city councilors present at the community meeting, Rick Starbard and Brian Field, said they would consider the opposition ahead of the proposal being brought before the Recreational Cannabis Site Plan Review Committee on Tuesday. The site will be up for review, but a vote may or may not be taken.  

“I heard all the concerns of the Saugus residents,” Avery said. “We’ll do everything we can to satisfy them as much as possible, (but) this building is in Lynn where the voters voted for (recreational marijuana).”

There are seven of eight recreational marijuana licenses available in the city. Four companies have already been granted approval by the Recreational Cannabis Site Plan Review Committee and are slated to appear before the City Council to seek a special permit.

One of the companies, Natural Selections, has proposed opening a facility at 193 Oxford St., which would be next door to The Blue Ox, an upscale restaurant. The City Council is scheduled to approve or deny a special permit for that proposal on Tuesday night.

Apothca, formerly the Massachusetts Patient Foundation, is the only recreational marijuana facility the city has approved. Recreational pot shops can go anywhere in the city, but can’t be near schools and must be at least 500 feet from another retail location.

If a company’s special permit is approved by the City Council, the potential retailer would sign a host agreement with the city. Under the agreement, each company would be required to provide the city with 6 percent of annual gross revenues, when factoring in the local option tax Lynn officials passed in 2017.

 

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