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Saugus files lawsuit against Lynn City Council over pot shop

Saugus wasn’t blowing smoke when selectmen threatened a lawsuit against Lynn for its decision to allow a pot shop on the town line. But that won’t stop a local company’s plans to open one.

“Saugus voted against marijuana and they adopted a bylaw within their town,” said Sam Vitali, an attorney representing Massachusetts Green Retail. “Unfortunately, it’s not the republic of Saugus. It’s the town of Saugus.”

Vitali called the lawsuit a “waste of taxpayer money” and said his client is moving forward with building renovations and filing for final approval from the State Cannabis Control Commission.

A document filed by the town in Land Court against the Lynn City Council makes the argument that about 10 inches of a Boston Street building — the proposed home of a recreational marijuana store — a third of the deck, most of the parking spaces, and an existing dumpster are all in an industrial district of Saugus.

The building is commonly known as the former O’Brien’s Pub.

Nine Lynn city councilors approved a special permit last month that allows the shop to share a building with a new Bianchi’s Pizza shop. Two members were absent.

Bianchi’s Pizza remains a staple on Revere Beach, though the shop moved into another waterside restaurant, Renzo’s, last year. At a recent hearing, Lynn City Councilor Rick Starbard called the pizza and pot shops “a dream combination.”

The plan got the green light from the City of Lynn Cannabis Site Plan Review Committee and from a screening committee established in the city’s Office of Economic Development and Industrial Corporation. Community meetings were held as part of a vetting process leading up to the hearing, said Vitali.

But not everyone is pleased.

Recreational cannabis establishments are explicitly prohibited in every zoning district in Saugus, according to the complaint filed by the Saugus Board of Selectmen and the town’s building commissioner.

The panel voted against allowing recreational marijuana stores in 2016 and Town Meeting members supported the decision two years later.

Selectmen were also wary about approving medical marijuana facilities in town.

In January 2016, Christopher Edwards, executive director of Alternative Therapies Group, petitioned the board for a letter stating it was not opposed to the possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary on a parcel of land at the end of Osprey Road. Alternative Therapies Group is a medical marijuana store in Salem.

Several concerned citizens spoke in opposition to the facility, while others shared what they thought it could bring to the town. The board unanimously denied the request.

I just don’t think it’s good for our town,” chairwoman Debra Panetta said at the time. She did not return a call or email seeking comment before deadline Tuesday.

The appeal, which was filed Monday, claims the company’s plan failed to address pedestrian or vehicular movement along Boston Street in Lynn, which continues as Lincoln Avenue in Saugus. It did not submit a plan that includes security for the transportation of cannabis and cannabis products, and that it has not taken steps to ensure that use and parking will not take place in Saugus, where it is prohibited, according to the document.

Selectmen say the council also failed to hold a full and fair public hearing. According to the complaint, a hearing on the company’s application was held on March 26. After the hearing closed, “the council solicited and accepted from the applicants counsel significant material information regarding the access/egress and parking issues at the site.”

The council did not allow an attorney representing Saugus or the public to respond to the information before it granted the special permit, according to the document.

“The assertions are wanting,” said Vitali. “Clearly, there is a requirement. That requirement was satisfied. (The) plan was read word for word at a community meeting. This isn’t about security. This is about (the fact that) Saugus doesn’t want it. They think they can tell Lynn they don’t want it in Saugus.”

He and James Lamanna, an attorney for the city, argue that although part of the building and parking lot is in Saugus, the retail store component will be located in Lynn and all parking for shop will take place in the city.

“The city is confident based on representations that all parking will occur in Lynn and that the city will prevail,” said Lamanna.

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