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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Dealing with Details: License Commission Works out the Logistics of Marijuana Shops

Dealing with Details: License Commission Works out the Logistics of Marijuana Shops

The Licensing Commission has continued a hearing on special additional rules for marijuana establishments to its March meeting.

The commission opened the public hearing at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17.

While the hearing did not generate much controversy, commissioners did agree that they wanted more time to consider several issues, including language limiting where retail marijuana shops can be concentrated, and the amount the city will charge for application fees.

“I’d like to see more research and see what nearby cities have done and what their challenges are,” said commission member Roseann Bongiovanni.

Currently, there are three applications in the works for retail marijuana shops in the city. The city will allow a maximum of four retail licenses.

According to the proposed regulation, the Licensing Commission will 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 City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher.

“We are trying to be a little more restrictive now so we don’t have to clean up after the fact, like with liquor licenses,” said Fisher.

The section of the proposed regulations that garnered the most discussion among commission members was one which would limit the concentration of where retail marijuana shops can be located.

Fisher noted that the language included in the draft regulations, limiting retail shops to one per voting district and not within 500 feet of another retail marijuana store, was not included by the legal department. She said it was included because it was a request made during a past public hearing on marijuana regulations.

“We already have a very small area in Chelsea, and retail shops are already restricted to three zones and can’t be within 500 feet of schools,” said Fisher. “It is already quite restrictive of where you can put a facility.”

The city will allow marijuana establishments in the Industrial, Shopping Center, and Business Highway zone.

Licensing Commission Chairman Mark Rossi said he’d like the commission to have more discretion over where facilities can be located.

“Our job is to factor in the input from the community and the licensees,” said Rossi.

Much like it does with liquor licenses, Rossi said the Licensing Commission will be getting input from the community, police and fire departments, and other city officials when it comes to making a final determination on issuing a marijuana license.

“This committee is uniquely situated to make that determination,” he said.

Commission member James Guido said he would like more information on limiting concentration in voting districts before making a final decision on the proposed regulation.

Rossi also said he had questions about the $5,000 application and annual renewal fee for marijuana establishments, stating he would like to see a higher number.

Rossi said the application fees and concentration of locations will be discussed when the hearing is continued at its March 7 meeting.

“This is a big issue that affects everyone,” he said.

•In other business, the Licensing Commission adjusted its penalty for Rincon Latinos restaurant at 373 Washington Ave. In December, the commission suspended the restaurant’s liquor license for eight days spread over four weekends for repeated instances of exceeding its capacity.

Last week, the commission agreed to suspend the license for two weekends in January, as well as for a five-day stretch during the week when a new handicap bathroom will be installed by the restaurant owners.

The new bathroom will allow Rincons Latinos to increase its capacity from 17 to 28 people, according to John Dodge, the attorney representing the owners.

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Chelsea Police to Begin Liquor Establishment Inspections

Chelsea Police to Begin Liquor Establishment Inspections

Chief Brian A. Kyes announced late last week that the Chelsea Police will be conducting unannounced checks on all licensed establishments that sell or serve liquor.

These inspections will be conducted throughout 2017 and will include a focus on underage drinking. All licensed establishments must abide by City and state regulations as part of doing business in the city. The goal of the inspections is to educate and ensure that these businesses in Chelsea follow the established legal guidelines. Several Chelsea officers have received liquor enforcement training and will be tasked to conduct these inspections and to report any infractions to the Chelsea Licensing Commission who has the authority to impose sanctions.

“Chelsea has very strict liquor control standards and it is the responsibility of the owners and management to ensure that all of their employees are aware of these regulations,” Kyes said. “I am hoping that our inspections find all businesses to be in compliance.”

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Licensing Issues Taking Center Stage at Council

By Seth Daniel

License Commission member Ken Umemba and other allies who backed his appointment fired back this week at Councillor Roy Avellaneda – a former License Commissioner – after he led an attempt to reject the re-appointment of Umemba last week.

Avellaneda said at the time it was one of many more changes he wanted to make due to concerns he developed while serving on the Commission.

That controversial action last week, which resulted in a 5-5 vote of the Council – which was enough to approve the re-appointment of Umemba, sparked controversy and Umemba said it was an unexpected attack.

“I refute the recent disingenuous and incendiary remarks that Councillor Roy Avellaneda espouses to defame and undermine the stellar record of the Chelsea Licensing Board and myself as a member,” wrote Umemba. “We do not have to search far to realize the progress the board has made in the past few years. A check of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) – decision’s website indicates how we have performed over these years. The Licensing Board literally made fewer trips to ABCC in Boston to appeal cases, than any other urban city in the Commonwealth. The board has demonstrated extreme patience and restraint in making fair and balanced decisions.

“Avellaneda lamented openly in the Chelsea Record newspaper that he was disappointed,” Umemba continued. “Despite the concerns he raised against me by name that ‘the councilors decided to vote more on feelings…over actual things that happen at the meetings,’ he fails flatly here to realize that those councillors aren’t easily cowed or influenced. They are independent-minded and saw through the fog of his innuendos to reject his concerted effort to tarnish a stellar record.”

Umemba pointed to the fact that Avellaneda served only two months ago with him and other commissioners on the very board he criticizes – saying he must have “amnesia” in now throwing his former colleagues under the bus.

Avellaneda said it was no such thing, and that he’s been calling for change since last November – after he was elected to Council, as he doesn’t believe the current Commission has been harsh enough on many of the bars that violate the licensing rules – especially those that frequently do so.

“I have been calling for this for awhile,” he said. “It’s nothing new. Maybe it’s new to him, but it’s not new. I have been working on this with the chief of police, the Law Department and the City Manager. I think I started voicing my concerns back in November. It’s not been done in a vacuum.”

A former License Commissioner, Bruce Black, who served with Avellaneda and Umemba, has also now weighed in on the matter. In a letter to the Council, he scourged those who voted against Umemba and called it politicizing the Board.

“The actions of the band of five council members (Avellaneda, Cortell, Frank, Tejada & Murphy) to ambush Ken Umemba’s re-appointment to the Licensing Commission was shameful, cloaked behind false arguments and hidden agendas,” he wrote. “The assault on the City Charter is equally alarming. The council should keep politics and personal ambition out of the boards and commissions. As for Ken Umemba, I served with him on the Licensing Commission. While I don’t believe I agreed with any commission member 100% of the time, there was never any question with regard to Ken’s integrity, sincerity and desire to serve the City of Chelsea in a positive way…His ethics have never been in question; he has never stood to profit from any action.”

The ethics part of Black’s letter opened up a wider question that has been hinted at for some time, and that is the fact that Avellaneda’s real estate company listed the Las Palmas building for sale only days after Avellaneda and the Board voted to strip the restaurant/bar of its license.

“Within a week of the revocation vote, and before the decision to revoke was even written, Avellaneda was advertising himself as the listing agent for the sale of the Las Palmas property,” wrote Black. “Not only does that explain his attempt to reconsider the revocation in order to obtain a higher sale price, but also reeks of a major conflict of interest, and should be entirely unacceptable.”

Avellaneda said that was partially true, but it wasn’t what it seemed.

“The reality is I voted to take away a license,” he said. “It was a unanimous decision due to an incident. A few days later the owner came to my father’s bakery looking for me and asking me to put the building on the market. Why did she come to me? I don’t know. I do a lot of commercial sales in the city. That’s on record. Many people know that. In hindsight, was it the smartest move to accept a listing from someone I had just voted to take away a license from? No. It probably wasn’t from a standpoint of being above even the perception of doing something wrong. We took it off the market. I think they have it back up, but not with me.

“They’re going to start throwing stones now and I understand because I voted against Plaza Mexico,” he continued. “Leo Robinson already tried to take that to the Ethics Commission because that was one of his hangouts, Plaza Mexico.”

Umemba wrote that the Plaza Mexico decision was one in which the majority of the Board voted to suspend the restaurant and bar while Avellaneda voted to revoke the license. He said Avellaneda continues to march to that minority opinion.

“Avellaneda has continued to stoke and flame his minority opinion regarding the majority decision reached in that case,” he wrote. “His discountenance with the majority rejection of his insatiable draconian desire to ‘revoke’ instead of ‘suspend’ Plaza Mexico’s license highlights his abject lack of understanding of proper application of jurisprudence during his tenure at the Commission.”

Avellaneda disagreed and said the most recent License Commission, on Tuesday night, highlighted why he did not want Umemba back on the Board.

He said discussion was underway about Heller’s Liquors and three violations that they were being cited for, including selling to a minor, over serving and violating their promise not to sell “nips.” In that discussion, Avellaneda said Umemba’s comments were off base and he was talking about a two-week suspension when others were talking about six months.

“Everyone else is talking about six months and he’s talking about two weeks,” he said. “They’ve been before the board multiple times and stood accused of breaking three violations and he’s talking about two weeks. That’s why I didn’t want that re-appointment. This is an example of him being too lax on people. His questioning was also way off with Heller’s. Everyone talked about the three violations and he was talking about the attorney’s website. That’s ridiculous and that’s what I was talking about.”

Black countered that the Council went down a road where they made the process political.

“I write with a sense of disappointment, as it appears that this City Council has begun a process of ignoring the City Charter and injecting politics into Boards and Commissions,” he wrote. “In the process, you have done a great disservice to a respected and honorable member of our community, Kenneth Umemba, who has selflessly volunteered his time and efforts to contribute to the City of Chelsea.”

Avellaneda said it wasn’t political, but was part of the Council process. He also said he’ll stand by his vote and his campaign to clean up the establishments in the city.

“We are appointing judge and jury here,” he said. “That’s what the License Commission is. This was an opportunity to vote out a judge that I think is too lax, especially in light of the concerns in the community about the downtown area by individuals, businesses and parents.”

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My Record on the Licensing Board Speaks for Itself

By Ken Umemba

I write to refute the recent incendiary remarks that Councillor Roy Avellaneda recently espouses to defame and undermine the stellar record of the Chelsea Licensing Board and myself as a member. We do not have to search far to realize the progress the board has made in the past few years.

A check of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) – decision’s website indicates how we have performed over these years. The Licensing Board literally made fewer trips to ABCC in Boston to appeal cases, than any other urban city in the Commonwealth.

The board has demonstrated extreme patience and restraint in making fair and balanced decisions. This explains the board’s infrequent trips to ABCC, and highlights the reasons that establishments and regular citizens, who follow board proceedings; believe in their rulings.

Avellaneda served along with myself and others for over six years on the Commission, and he never ever made his disaffection known to anyone. He participated in his last meeting barely two months ago. No sooner than he leaves his colleagues on the Licensing Board and his voting records behind, he seems to have developed amnesia, as he ascends to his new throne at the City Council Chamber and calls for the heads of his former fellow commissioners to roll.

Avellaneda lamented openly in the Chelsea Record that he was disappointed.

Despite the concerns that he raised against me by name that “the councilors decided to vote more on feelings…over actual things that happen at the meetings,” he fails flatly here to realize that those councillors aren’t easily cowed or influenced. They are independent-minded and saw through the fog of his innuendos to reject his concerted effort to tarnish a stellar record.

He championed impactful decisions at the Licensing Commission. Two decisions in particular, Las Palmas and Plaza Mexico, I need mention here. Those were the only occasions that board suffered serious harm at ABCC, throughout the entire period I have been on the Board.

Implicit in Avellaneda’s innuendos is that I was complicit in the two aforementioned decisions that culminated to the board losing its “appeal recently on Las Palmas at the state level.” He portrays to the public that in both cases, he was more concerned than other commissioners of the welfare of the young man whose head was cracked open. Well, I, Ken Umemba, was never in attendance when both cases that Roy alluded to were decided.

Decisions that were made against Plaza Mexico when the establishment made a second appearance before the board need to be clearly distinguished as it has received different responses from many in our community. Avellaneda has continued to flame his minority opinion regarding the majority decision reached in that case.

His dissatisfaction with the majority of the Board rejecting his desire to “revoke” instead of “suspend” Plaza Mexico’s license highlights his abject lack of understanding of proper application of jurisprudence during his tenure at the Commission.

Although the board is imbued with the authority to grant, revoke, and suspend licenses; their proper use is not meant to be as retribution. The context for their usage must be based on “substantial evidence” which “is more than just some evidence to support the conclusion.” The law is clear and well-settled on what does not constitute as substantial evidence. Evidence from which a rational mind might draw the desired inference is not enough. So, the disbelief of any particular evidence does not constitute substantial evidence to the contrary.

Local boards can’t exceed their discretional latitude regarding disciplinary actions. Therefore, the decision that Plaza Mexico received was acted “upon consideration of the entire record” presented to the board. The majority decision that Roy and other councillors object to, took “into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight” as it rightly opted to “suspend.”

Hence, Avellaneda continues to protest the decision that majority felt to be appropriate sanction. His protest and claim strain credulity because the board was not presented with formidable adverse evidence to affirm his suspicions.

Commissioners make very conscientious efforts to examine facts to reach independent judgments. There is no doubt that, inherently, we are guided by our individual conscience when we examine facts. But, absent the framework grounded in the rule of law, decisions would be all over the place.

We marry our emotions and the rule of law in our decision-making process, as most members of the board understand that conscience is “essentially a judgment of the intellect.” According to a religious pamphlet, conscience is not a tablet, or a book which contains marks indicating good or bad behavior, nor is it some other being inside us giving orders, issuing warnings.

Clearly, the Church and the rule of law help us to form correct consciences by clearly providing objective standards for moral conduct. Hence, we see our conscience as our most secret core and our sanctuary where we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths…and the more the correct conscience prevails, the more we turn aside from emotional and blind choices and try to be guided by the objective standards of conduct.

The board does not “condone” Plaza Mexico’s recalcitrance in complying with licensing laws. However, conscientious and objective applications of the law required full consideration in the preponderance of the facts and if they are substantial evidence. Also, to examine if “it is, thus, quite possible for licensee to offend the regulatory scheme without scienter.” The board never purports to be a courthouse where infringed families seek remedy to be made whole again.

That’s beyond our jurisprudence.

Kenneth Umemba, Member

Chelsea Licensing Board Commission

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Two More Restaurant Bars Get Penalized

The Chelsea Licensing Commission imposed sanctions against two local establishments after a public hearing was held at the October 27 meeting.

The Chelsea Police brought forward complaints against the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant of 238 Fifth St. and Bar Rancho Las Pupusas of 36 Second St. Both locations will have five days to appeal the penalties after receiving official notice from the city.

Chelsea Police provided testimony that the Acapulco Restaurant violated local licensing rules in two documented cases. In the first incident, police testified that management failed to act and call authorities when an employee was assaulted inside the establishment receiving injuries after a fight with a fellow employee. In that report, the employee told officers she was threatened not to call police as it would cause problems for the business.

A second violation occurred when officers observed the location open for business after the mandated 1 a.m. closing. During this incident police reported that the manager on duty was not cooperative and appeared to be intoxicated when officers entered the premises to conduct an inspection. Based on the evidence, the Commission voted to impose a seven-day suspension of the restaurant’s Liquor and Entertainment license.

Bar Rancho Las Pupusas was given a two-day suspension of its Liquor and Entertainment license based on two incidents.

Police provided reports that the bar purchased alcohol illegally in January of this year when an officer observed the unloading of several cases of beer from a vehicle and witnessed the beer being carried into the bar. The second incident was for a police report documenting after hours operation. In that incident, a police report detailed several persons inside the bar drinking after the mandated 1 a.m. closing time.

Chief Brian A. Kyes expressed his thanks to the Licensing Commission for their actions. He also warned all establishment that are licensed in the community that they are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations and violations will not be tolerated.

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City Seeks Board Members

City Seeks Board Members

City officials are calling upon local residents to get more involved in the community.  Specifically, the City is seeking volunteers to join standing boards and commissions.

“A key to the great success our community is enjoying is the participation of so many in helping their elected and appointed officials manage a complete transformation of City affairs,” said City Council President Dan Cortell, who got his start in municipal government by serving on the Chelsea Licensing Commission.  “If we’re going to extend that success, we need even more people to stand up and commit to a better Chelsea.”

City Manager Jay Ash echoed Cortell’s call for volunteers.

“The City Council and City Administration have tried to open the doors of City Hall to those we’re here to serve.  We welcome the participation of more and more people and truly feel that the greatness of our community is rooted in greater participation on each and every endeavor we undertake,” Ash added, while noting that more than 100 people currently serve on City boards.

Openings currently exist or regularly become available on the City’s standing boards and commissions, including the:  Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Board of Assessing, Licensing Commission, Traffic Commission, Cable Television Advisory Committee, Council on Elder Affairs, Economic Development Board, Community Schools Board, Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Historical Commission, Board of Library Trustees, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Board of Health, Tree Board, Youth Commission, Zoning Board, Board of Registrars of Voters and the Cultural Council.  Additionally, a new board, the Commission on Diversity and Empowerment, will soon be established.

Volunteers with specific skills are also being sought.  In particular, those with computer networking, programming and web site development experience are in need for a variety of community projects. Public relations specialists and those interested in community beautification and event planning are also encouraged to volunteer.

Those interested in serving should forward a letter of interest, which includes any relevant experience and/or a resume, by Friday, October 25th to: City Manager Jay Ash, 500 Broadway, Chelsea, MA  02150 or jash@chelseama.gov.

“This is a terrific way for community residents to get involved in the management and improvement of their community,” said Councillor Paula Barton, a former Licensing Board member herself.  “So many positive outcomes can be produced by each and every one of us working together.”

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