A Town Council subcommittee narrowed down the applications for two marijuana dispensaries in town to operators seeking to open in locations in Watertown Square and on Pleasant Street.
While the ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts prevents communities from banning pot from being sold, communities can limit the number of facilities. The Town Council has limited the number to three in Watertown.
One dispensary has been approved to open at 23 Elm Street in the East End, and Town officials accepted applications for the other two dispensaries in town. Thursday evening, the Council’s Economic Development and Planning Committee reviewed the four applications, ultimately asked two to start the approval process: one at 48 North Beacon St. (the property includes the Anthony’s Florist location and the Escort Limousine building on Arsenal Street), just east of Watertown Square, and one at 330-350 Pleasant St. on the Westside of Town in the new development being built across from the intersection of Rosedale Road.
Two others applicants sought to open dispensaries: one on Arsenal Street in the former Monroe Auto Service location, and one in the plaza on Mt. Auburn Street that includes a Dunkin’ Donuts. Magoon said that the Arsenal Street location would also be in East Watertown, and he wanted to spread out the locations. He added that one of the limits for where dispensaries can be located in Watertown is that they cannot be with 500 feet of another dispensary, which means either the North Beacon Street or the Mt. Auburn Street location could be chosen, but not both.
Evaluating the Applicants
While all four applicants appeared to be solid, two were recommended by Assistant Town Manager and Community Development and Planning Director Steve Magoon.
“I wouldn’t say any of the four should be eliminated out of hand, or that any one stands out from the others,” Magoon said. “What struck me is we talked about trying to spread out uses, and with one at 23 Elm Street, (having dispensaries) in Watertown Square and Pleasant Street (makes sense).”
All three subcommittee members agreed the location on Mt. Auburn Street would be a difficult one because it is located in what is already a busy plaza.
District D Councilor Ken Woodland agreed that none of the applicants particularly stood above the rest, and he preferred spreading out dispensaries to different areas of Watertown.
The evaluations were based on questionnaires submitted by applicants. Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli, who chairs the subcommittee, said the two applicants recommended by Magoon were the ones he thought had the best applications.
In particular, he was interested in how they responded to the state’s required Positive Impact Pan and Diversity Plan. He liked that the North Beacon Street proposal, by ESKAR, committed to a $5,000 contribution to the Social Equity and Technical Assistance Fund, which helps minorities and other groups disproportionately impacted by drugs crimes.
Map of 330-350 Pleasant Street
Also, the Pleasant Street proposal, made by Buds Goods and Provisions, has created a Career Empowerment Program in Worcester, which will provide industry training and career counseling to the Watertown community, and those impacted.
The other two applicants did not address, or go into detail about how they would meet this criteria, Piccirilli said.
District B Councilor Lisa Feltner said she was torn between the North Beacon Street and the Arsenal Street locations. She noted that the North Beacon Street application calls for a driveway connecting North Beacon and Arsenal streets.
“This location does not sit well when we think about the transformation of Watertown Square,” Feltner said, referring to the planning to redesign the main intersection in the Square. “It gets in the way when I think about redesigning the Square.”
She added that the Monroe Auto Service spot is not that close to Elm Street, and noted that more parking was proposed for the Arsenal Street location, 29 spaces, compared to the North Beacon Street one, with 13.
Map of 48 North Beacon Street
Piccirilli said he likes the North Beacon Street location because it is easier to access by public transportation, and it would redevelop the former Escort Limousine building on Arsenal Street, which is in need of repair.
The Application Process
Ultimately all three members of the subcommittee approved asking ESKAR (North Beacon Street) and Buds Goods and Provisions (Pleasant Street) to start the application process
The application process was designed to try to create a fair process, said Piccirilli. This is particularly important, he said, following the bad headlines from other communities related to approving marijuana dispensaries (some of which are being investigate by the state).
“The granting of licenses has been fraught with peril for municipal officials,” Piccirilli said. “We was the Economic Development & Planning Committee have been tasked with coming up with a process, a clear process, with no favoritism.”
The two applicants will prepare to have community meetings to discuss the proposal with neighbors and other residents. Then they will negotiate a host community agreement with Town officials. The agreement will have to be approved by the Town Council.
Once they have an agreement, they can apply for an adult use marijuana license from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission. When they have a license, the applicants can seek a special permit and site plan review from the Zoning Board of Appeals.