Licensing Commission Close to Vote on Marijuana Regulations

Licensing Commission Close  to Vote on Marijuana Regulations

With plans to host four recreational marijuana shops already at some phase of readiness in Chelsea, the Licensing Commission is nearing a final vote on regulations for special additional rules for those establishments.

On March 7, the Commission continued a public hearing on the regulations, focusing on the topics of application fees, locations of the pot shops, and security.

Commission Chair Mark Rossi said the Commission should be ready to take a final vote on the regulations at its meeting in early April.

The City is limited to four retail marijuana establishments.

Those shops will already be vetted heavily before they reach the Licensing Commission for final approval. Other approvals include a host agreement in place from the City and approved by the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, as well as any necessary approvals from the City’s Zoning and Planning Boards.

Rossi said the Licensing Commission will grant the retail pot shop licenses in much the same manner as it does for liquor licenses.

One of the questions raised by an early draft of the Licensing Commission regulations was whether the Commission should limit the shops to one or two per voting district.

The City ordinance already limits the establishments to three zoning districts — Industrial, Shopping Center, and Business Highway zones.

By the end of last week’s hearing, there was general agreement among the commissioners that there would not be a restriction on how close the pot shops can be to one other.

City Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda agreed that was the right move on the issue.

“I would oppose any sort of restriction on the number of feet from one place to another,” he said. “We already have zoning in place in the city and we don’t need to add another layer to that; we don’t do it for other businesses.”

The Commission also agreed on a $500 application fee and $5,000 yearly renewal fee for the marijuana businesses.

While there were some questions about the Commission’s role in looking at security at the establishments, City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher noted that there are already strong security requirements from the state, and requirements are also written into the host agreements with the prospective businesses.

Commissioner Roseann Bongiovanni said she would still like to look at the host agreements to see how they address security before taking the final vote next month.

“I don’t think security is going to be an issue,” said Commissioner James Guido, adding it is more likely traffic that could cause some issues.

According to the proposed regulation, the Licensing Commission would not issue a license to anyone who has violated Licensing Commission rules and regulations in the past five years. All licenses are subject to zoning approval and state Cannabis Control Commission approval.

The operating hours for retail shops will be limited to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and all signage will have to be approved by the City, according to Fisher.

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On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

The City Council voted in favor of a proposal put forward by City Manager Tom Ambrosino to limit the siting of recreational marijuana retail stores and cultivation facilities.

The vote came on an 8-2 majority after an amendment by Councillor Roy Avellaneda failed to get the eight votes needed for passage. Avellaneda and Councillor Calvin Brown voted against the City Manager’s proposal. Councillor Luis Tejada was absent from the meeting.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they have limited zoning areas for retail establishments to the Industrial Zone and the Highway Business zone. Marijuana cultivation and lab facilities would be limited to the Industrial Zone only.

The state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued regulations regarding the numbers of facilities allowed in each municipality and Chelsea could have up to four retail licensees. The CCC will begin accepting application on April 2 and will potentially begin issuing them on July 1 – though the July 1 date is still very much in the air at the state level right now.

Ambrosino said it was imperative for the City to get something on the books now to limit the locations for these establishments.

“I have proposed an ordinance to try to accommodate this new industry in a way I think is reasonable,” he said. “You do need to pass some ordinance to regulate this new industry to ensure the entire city isn’t open to establishments in this new industry.”

There was a great deal of discussion, though, before the vote was logged to pass Ambrosino’s proposal.

Avellaneda had an amendment that would have eliminated the Industrial Zones as an area for retail, and would have included the Shopping Center district instead – which is in places like the Mystic Mall/DeMoula’s and the Parkway Plaza.

He said siting cultivation facilities in the Industrial Zone is a no-brainer, but he said retail of any kind, even marijuana, doesn’t belong in an industrial area.

“This will be a storefront,” he said. “You don’t picture this in the middle of some warehouse where there are no stairs and a loading dock and lifts for pallets in front. When you think about the retail, we think of this, we should think of it like a jewelry store…You have no public transportation in the Industrial Zone. You’re not taking the bus down Marginal Street or Eastern Avenue…This proposal is drawn up by individuals thinking about this like it was 20 years ago and not today.”

Avellaneda had some measured support for his amendment, but it did eventually fail, getting only six of the eight votes needed.

Those voting for his amendment included Councillors Enio Lopez, Yamir Rodriguez, Bob Bishop, Giovanni Recupero, and Judith Garcia. Those voting against it were Councillors Damali Vidot, Calvin Brown, Leo Robinson, and Joe Perlatonda.

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Avellaneda Proposes Planning Process to Change Zoning on Marginal Street

By Seth Daniel

In the wake of a Waterfront Planning Process for the areas next to Chelsea Street Bridge, Councillor Roy Avellaneda has called for the strip of land running along Marginal Street from Highland Avenue to Winnisimmet Street to be re-zoned to provide what he believes are better uses.

In an order presented to the Council on Monday and passed, he called for the City Manager and Planning Department to draft a zoning amendment for the City Council to review within 45 days, adding a Waterfront Residential Commercial Overlay District (WRCOD) to the highly-industrial – though partly residential – area. He said he believes the new overlay district would promote economic development, eliminate blighted properties and encourage residential and commercial uses.

Some of the uses suggested to be allowed in the new district include multi-family dwellings with four or more units, dwellings containing six or fewer units, multifamily dwelling units of 12-35 units per acre, hotels, bakeries, convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants, banks, cinemas and indoor commercial recreation – to name a few.

In addition, he calls for uses currently allowed by right in the industrial area should only be allowed by special permit, and those allowed now by special permit should be prohibited.

“What I’m doing is taking advantage of the face we’re in this process to look at the waterfront planning,” he said. “This part is not in that study. In the conversation I’ve had with residents down there who live along Marginal Street, they’d like to see less industrial uses – which doesn’t fit waterfront zoning. The things they would like to see are not allowed now, things like commercial mixed use, more larger residential or banks. We should take a look at this piece of land to and allow those things to happen…The current study, again, does not include that area. It’s been cut out…It would be great to envision something for that corridor, which is the front door of our city.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero agreed that he believes it’s a good idea.

“I am in favor of it,” he said. “It will make our area much better and it isn’t going to make the taxes go up. All of that isn’t allowed there now. We would have retail and stores with apartments above. All of that makes sense down there.”

Meanwhile, there are rumblings that not everyone agrees with the idea, and it is believed that heavy industrial owners like the warehouse on Essex Street, Eastern Salt and Boston Hides & Furs might have concerns.

Some on the Council had initial concerns as well, though public comments were not yet made on the matter. It will be scheduled for a public hearing at the Planning Board, and later at the Council

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Zoning Change Would Allow Expansion of Methadone and Drug Counseling

By Seth Daniel

A new provision being considered over the summer regarding zoning ordinances would allow the Methadone Clinic on Crescent Avenue and MGH-Chelsea to establish substance abuse counseling centers near their current site – though no medications would be allowed to be dispensed.

The Methadone Clinic on Crescent Avenue has recently come under fire, and particularly at a public meeting last month hosted by Councillors Luis Tejada, Roy Avellaneda and Leo Robinson. At that meeting, a huge turnout of residents opposed to the location of the clinic asked its owner if he would move it. The discussion went on for more than an hour.

All of the sudden, the Methadone Clinic seems to be a top concern of the public.

Now, City Manager Tom Ambrosino is proposing that the Council allow the clinic to expand its counseling services to an office building next door on Crescent Avenue through a change in the zoning ordinances. The change would also allow MGH-Chelsea to operate a counseling center near its location on Everett Avenue.

The change in zoning provides a definition of a counseling center, which stipulates that under no circumstances can it dispense medication. It also allows such centers to locate more easily in certain zoning districts of the city, including the Light Industrial and Highway Business Districts.

“There’s been no indication the Methadone Clinic is moving,” said Ambrosino. “The discussions we’ve had is the would like to have more counseling at a location next door. They have said they want to do more counseling to accompany the medication. MGH supports this idea too…There is a need for more counseling and we don’t have a zoning ordinance that allows it. We’re proposing to add it by special permit in these few districts away from residential areas.”

The change is part of a very large zoning package Ambrosino submitted to the Council right before its summer recess. The Council has been considering the many changes and proposals over the summer, and is expected to vote on it at the first meeting in the fall.

Last week, the Planning Board held a hearing on the ordinance for counseling centers, and took it under advisement.

Ambrosino said he knows the history of the Clinic, including the unpopular court order to put it on Crescent Avenue, but stressed that there would be no medication dispensed at the proposed counseling centers. He also said the Methadone Clinic has been responsive in recent years where maybe they weren’t in the past.

“In my tenure here, the Clinic has been pretty good to work to address problems when we’ve asked them to do so,” he said.

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Strip Club Appeals to Stripping As High Art, ZBA Says No

Attorneys Kendra Kinscherf and Richard Lynds arguing a point about nude dancing as a protected art form at Tuesday’s ZBA meeting, as strip club proponents Konstantinos Georgeopoulos, Louis Tasiopoulos and Gregory Costa sit in the background.

Attorneys Kendra Kinscherf and Richard Lynds arguing a point about nude dancing as a protected art form at Tuesday’s
ZBA meeting, as strip club proponents Konstantinos
Georgeopoulos, Louis Tasiopoulos and Gregory Costa sit in the background.

There likely wouldn’t be Classical music playing in the background, and the “visual artists” dancing nude would likely not have been trained at the Juilliard School, but nonetheless, the proponents of a strip club on Beacham Street appealed to high art Tuesday night at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – saying their nude dancing is a form of visual art and their club should be allowed as an artistic venue.

“The U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Court have decided this is defined as an artistic use,” said Attorney Kendra Kinscherf of Davis, Malm and D’agostine in Boston. “It is an art use because it is for artistic dancing by artists. That is by the Supreme Court and the SJC and that’s what’s happening here. Whether or not you agree, it has been decided. This is an art use and is being displayed at a facility so it falls under the definition of an art use…This is the creation of visual art for the purpose of display by artists.”

Kinscherf, representing Phantom Ventures proponents Konstantinos Georgeopoulos, Louis Tasiopoulos and Gregory Costa of Middleton, stressed that an art use is allowed in the Industrial Zone where the facility is sited – the old King Arthur’s strip club site.

ZBA members were thrown for a bit of a loop in the argument, and the large number of audience members in attendance couldn’t help but chuckle, but in the end the ZBA took the serious approach of reviewing the “art use” ordinance and didn’t believe it met muster. Specifically, the ordinance for art use is more geared towards the creation of artist live/work space where types of art are created, and they didn’t believe nude dancing fell into that category.

The more pertinent argument, however, was concerning the zoning code and what it says and what is doesn’t say.

Phantom Ventures was officially in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting in an appeal before the Board. As a matter of procedure, Building Inspector Joe Cooney had denied the company a building permit to renovate the facility – which is described as being an upscale “cabaret” nude dancing and sports bar. The basis of that denial was that the use was no longer allowed, with the City saying that any grandfathering rights to a strip club on the site were eradicated when King Arthur’s was stripped of its licenses in May 2014.

One of the points of contention is that the Chelsea Adult Entertainment ordinance does not speak to nude dancing – an oversight from the distant past – but does speak to movie theaters and book stores.

“Our adult entertainment zoning does define adult entertainment as a movie theatre and a book store, but it does state that if a use isn’t mentioned, you have to find something similar,” said Cooney. “We believe the movie theatre and book stores are similar.”

He also said that the zoning does prohibit grandfathering the use of nude dancing.

Phantom Ventures believes the next closest use to choose would be the art use, as nude dancing in their opinion is a form of art and preventing it would abridge their Constitutional rights.

City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher said Chelsea offers nude dancing establishments in two specific zones, the shopping center district and the highway business district, and by offering the use at those two districts, Constitutional rights are protected.

“You have a Constitutional right to nude dancing and as long as nude dancing is allowed somewhere, we are not abridging anyone’s rights by not allowing it in Chelsea’s Industrial District,” she said.

ZBA members debated the issue briefly, and voted 3-0 to uphold the denial of a building permit – essentially giving a victory for now to the many neighbors who had shown up to oppose the club.

Phantom Ventures indicated it did not agree with the decision.

“While we disagree with Tuesday’s decision, we respect the job the Zoning Board has to do in these matters,” read a statement issued by the company. “This is a legal process in which the petitioner has certain rights – including those protected by the United States Constitution and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. We intend to pursue all available remedies and look forward to continuing a dialogue with the City of Chelsea.”

Neighbors spoke vigorously against the matter, not buying into any of the arguments put forth and hoping that, eventually, a judge will agree with the City’s position.

“It’s a blight; King Arthur’s was a blight for all those years with the prostitution, the drugs, the stabbings and the shooting in 1982,” said Marie Iacano of Beacon Street. “I don’t consider that visual arts. I don’t care what anyone says, I have the Constitutional right to my opinion on that…Go to the Town of Middleton where these three gentlemen list their business address. The people in Middleton I know wouldn’t be happy with this petition in front of their town government.”

School Supt. Mary Bourque spoke as the leader of the school and as a resident of Chelsea. She said there is nothing gentlemanly about the club.

“I don’t want us to be fooled about the description of this as a Gentlemen’s Club,” she said. “It makes it sound reputable and it’s not. I deal all day long with young women who have so many obstacles in their lives. How can I talk about bettering themselves with education and college readiness and yet there is a whole population of females allowed to be dancing nude in this area? Where do we have the courage to stand up?”

Councillor Dan Cortell, who represents the area, said he doesn’t support the proposal at all and that it would do nothing good for anyone in Chelsea.

“They want to open a strip club at the absolute location they want it,” he said. “They can make the same argument in any city or town in the state. They can do it in Everett and be closer to the people they want to serve – and I believe that would be the casino…Over 15 plus years, the City Manager, Council, Planning Department and Economic Development, Planning and Zoning Board’s have worked toward a shared vision for a better Chelsea. We were deliberative, ambitious and patient. One of the rewards I believe this city and its resident’s have earned is to have a say in what we do and don’t want here. We don’t want this and will continue to fight as long as Phantom Ventures won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Afterward, he indicated he was pleased with the turnout from neighbors and the decision of the ZBA.

Councillor Calvin Brown said similar comments.

“No one wants this,” he said. “This is a small entity, but i has a very negative appeal and a very negative appearance to our community…For us to be here tonight considering bringing it back is a disgrace to the former city manager, the city council and the current city manager.”

In other ZBA news:

  • David Harrison and William Rogers were given a special permit to create a parking lot at 185-189 Bellingham St.
  • A proposal by Edith Antzak to replace the Crest Printing plant on Eastern Avenue and Hooper Street with a much quieter office use was heard by the ZBA and gained favor with neighbors.

“I think this is an awesome opportunity,” said a neighbor from Hooper Street. “This would be a lot quieter than Crest Printing. It’s much better for the neighborhood than Crest Printing was.”

The matter is seeking a special permit for parking, as they need nine space and have only seven.

  • A proposal by Moises Amaya for a special permit to convert an appliance repair shop into a laundromat and convenience store was also heard. The plan would be to take the building at 12 Essex St. – behind the Pollo Campero – and convert it into the dual use.

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Bold Initiative: Ash Hails New Economic Development Law

Bold Initiative: Ash Hails New Economic Development Law

City Manager Jay Ash look on as Gov. Deval Patrick talks about the new economic development law.An initiative to enhance the state’s economic development prospects was signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this month, and City Manager Jay Ash said it is a law that is absolutely on the right track.

The act provides new tools and training to ensure the Massachusetts workforce meets the needs of employers, invests in Gateway Cities to promote development and provides incentives to create jobs throughout the state, including in Chelsea.

“It’s a bold initiative and it will have a dramatic impact on our economy, our communities and, most importantly, our residents,” boasted Ash, who was a central player behind the scenes in envisioning and lobbying for the package to become law. Recognizing his role in seeing the initiative through the process, Ash was an invitee to the State House bill signing ceremony.

The “Act to Promote Economic Growth in the Commonwealth” seeks, among numerous provisions, to bolster the economic revitalization of Gateway Cities like Chelsea with $15 million for the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund. It also encourages the reuse of brownfields in economically distressed areas of Massachusetts with $10 million in funding.

“These are significant provisions that are really targeted to the Chelsea’s of the state, places that were roaring contributors to the Industrial Revolution and the great economy that sprung up from then, but whose fortunes have been less bright as manufacturing has moved south and overseas, and whose present economies need help in overcoming blighted buildings, contaminated properties, poor infrastructure and the retraining needs of their workforces,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico, who Ash referred to as his “go to guy” to get the bill through the legislative process.

Ash, who serves as co-chair of the Gateway Cities collaboration led by MassINC, was a champion of the transformative development fund.

“There are one or two projects in every Gateway City that have the chance to transform the character and catapult the vitality of the community, but they are unable to do so because of gaps in financing. For example, here in Chelsea, we’re envisioning a major market rate housing development in the downtown that could transform Broadway in the way so many have been anxious to see happen for so long. This fund now being established means that all of our Gateway Cities, including we here Chelsea, have a source of funding that could help make those transformative projects happen,” projected Ash.

“This comprehensive bill will help ensure that residents, businesses and communities are able to compete and excel in a dynamic economy,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We’ve made substantial gains in strengthening our economy and must now focus on broadening the circle of prosperity beyond Greater Boston to all regions of the Commonwealth. This bill does just that while preparing future leaders through provisions like MassCAN, a computer science education partnership, and the Talent Pipeline Initiative.”

In addition to those initiatives referenced by Speaker DeLeo, the Act includes $12 million for the middle skills job training grant fund to support advanced manufacturing, mechanical and technical skills at vocational-technical schools and community colleges. Also, the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund will receive $1.5 million to prepare Massachusetts residents for new jobs in high-demand occupations, helping close the middle-skills gap and creating a seamless pathway to employment.

“We’re looking at traditional employment, but also areas where future employment will be,” said Representative Dan Ryan. “For example, the new act includes a number of initiatives to expand the Commonwealth’s world class innovation economy, including $2 million for a Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund to promote the use of big data, open data and analytics, and $2 million for the Innovation Institute Fund at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC). We need to support jobs and job growth across existing and emerging sectors in order to remain economically sound, and we’re doing just that.”

A separate provision increases the Housing Development Incentive Program’s (HDIP) annual cap from $5 million to $10 million over the next four years, and allows larger developments to qualify by eliminating the 50-market-rate unit per project cap. The expansion of the HDIP will provide residents of Gateway Cities with increased access to market-rate as well as affordable housing.

“Chelsea had an HDIP project in the first round of the program, in the Box District, and that success shows us that so much more can be done to support the creation of both market-rate and affordable housing here and around the state,” said Representative RoseLee Vincent.

Ash said that the expansion of HDIP was also a priority of his, and that it could help create other successful housing developments in areas where investment has been tough to seed. That, along with numerous other provisions of the act have Ash excited about its local and statewide implementation.

“I remain so grateful to Gov. Patrick and his entire administration for their tremendously successful efforts at promoting prosperity in Massachusetts and providing meaningful tools and support here in Chelsea for us to join in that prosperity. Kudos, too, to our legislative delegation and their leadership, as they too have seized upon the opportunities to revitalize communities and put more people back to work in better paying jobs. We’ve been doing both, revitalizing community and putting people back to work, and our lift has just got significantly lighter because of the great tools the governor and our legislative leaders have had the foresight to enact,” concluded Ash.


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Artist Found His Way at the Walk

Artist Found His Way at the Walk

In 1968, Arnie Casavant was laid up at the old Chelsea Naval Hospital after having been injured while in the military.

The Rhode Island native was fond of his days recovering at the hospital, but he didn’t give Chelsea much thought until a decade ago.

After a failed bid to buy a retirement condo in New Hampshire one day 10 years ago, Casavant and his wife, Kathleen, were driving back down Rt. 1 to Boston in a kind of funk.

As they approached Chelsea, Casavant suggested they take a spin through the old Naval Hospital to change the pace of the day. They never found the Naval Hospital, as it was long gone by then, but they found Chelsea and they stayed.

Now, over the past 10 years that they’ve lived here, Casavant has found his artistic stride and at the Art Walk this weekend he’ll be presenting art and teaching art.

“Moving to Chelsea and starting to paint more coincided with me attending my first Art Walk,” Casavant, 66, said this week. “Fortunately for me it was a stepping stone. I had a show at Spencer Lofts and Pearl Street Gallery as a result of the Art Walk. It just spiraled from there. I started painting a lot more after and it turned into a whole new career. I have a studio in [the South End] in Boston and I am in a gallery in Cape Cod. The success I’m having now started because of the Chelsea Art Walk and the folks I met there.”

This year at the walk, Casavant will not only be showing his work at several of the nine venues, but also he’ll be teaching drawing at the Community Garden on Sunday.

That will be nothing new for him.

Casavant moved to Chelsea from “the ‘Burbs” he said after teaching art in Easton, MA for 30 years. So, teaching drawing will be nothing new for the retired teacher and budding artist.

“I’m excited this year to be offering a drawing workshop at the Community Garden,” he said. “It’s going to be about two or three hours helping adults learn to draw. I think we’ll add something really special to the Art Walk. There’s nothing better than to help adults find out what they want to focus on artistically.”

Casavant’s focus, however, is no secret, and many might have met him on the streets as he has painted urban scenes “on location.”

One of the things that attracted him to Chelsea were those gritty and vibrant urban scenes. He has taken to the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, the industrial oil tanks, and even the colorful fruit stands in and around Bellingham Square.

His favorite, however, is the Bridge.

“It’s always there for me to paint,” he said. “I’ve probably painted it more times than I can recall.”

Often, Casavant can be seen throughout the streets of the city painting on the sidewalk or in a park with his easel. He’s not shy, he said, and enjoys it when people come up to him and ask him what he’s doing.

“Chelsea has provided me with a lot of paintings and when I have a show in Chelsea, it’s so well received and people really come out to see it,” he said. “I think people in Chelsea have a lot of pride in their community. Many times I’m painting and and old timer will engage me in a conversation and tell me about how the City used to be. They’re interested in what I’m doing and they love the city. There may be some rough edges to Chelsea, but the heart of the community has a lot of pride.”

While many trek off to Florida or up to Maine for their retirement years, Casavant said he and his wife have found the perfect retirement enclave in Chelsea.

“Painting has added so much to my life and Chelsea has had so much to do with that,” he said. “Here we are 10 years later and we love the city and the proximity to Boston. We just can’t go back to the ‘Burbs. We can’t do the Applebee’s on Friday night with the kids and then the Mall on Saturday. We did all that with our son and we can’t go back.”


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