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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Liquor License Suspension Handed to Rincons Latinos

Liquor License Suspension Handed to Rincons Latinos

Rincons Latinos Restaurant on Washington Avenue has been no stranger to appearing before the Licensing Commission over the past several months.

At the Thursday, Dec. 6 meeting, it was a case of enough was enough for the licensing commissioners, as they voted to suspend the 373 Washington Ave. restaurant’s liquor license for eight days. The suspension, largely leveled for repeated instances of exceeding the posted capacity of the establishment, will be served during four weekends over December and January.

A police inspection in October found 42 people in the restaurant, well above the posted occupancy limit of 17. Police officials also claimed there was missing signage and insufficient lighting in the restaurant.

Attorney John Dodge, representing Orlando Pineda of Rincons Latinos, argued that his client is planning to install a second handicap accessible bathroom in the restaurant. That move would double the occupancy limit of Rincons Latinos from 17 to 34, he said.

“That is the only thing that has been reducing the occupancy level in the restaurant,” said Dodge. “It isn’t a safety concern in regard to (the number of people) in the restaurant.”

“It’s just breaking the law and not following rules,” countered Mark Rossi, the Licensing Commission chairman.

Dodge said Pineda is doing his best to run a business and will spend upwards of $7,500 to install the new bathroom to comply with regulations.

“Mr. Pineda has put his life and soul into the place, and he lives right upstairs,” Dodge said.

Dodge also noted that the police withdrew a previous charge against the restaurant from the fall that people were illegally bringing cases of beer into and out of the restaurant.

“Mr. Pineda and his brother Ricardo are trying to do the right thing,” Dodge said. “They are doing their best to increase the occupancy. I question the fundamental fairness (of the charges).”

Commission member James Guido took exception to Dodge’s accusation of unfairness.

“They have had plenty of chances,” he said. “The biggest complaint now is the occupancy and we are going to try to deal with that.”

Commission member and Inspectional Services Director Mike McAteer said he has been dealing with the occupancy issue and plans for an additional bathroom since July with no movement on the issue from the Pinedas.

Rossi said Dodge was basically taking a “no harm, no foul” approach to the occupancy violations and that the Pinedas have not made enough effort to address them over the past six months.

“The explanation has been, ehhhhh, it’s a big enough place and nobody got hurt,” Rossi said. “They have not taken the proper steps to alleviate the matter. Now, you are saying give me more time so I can try to make this right.”

The commission members batted around several possible punishments, from a 30-day license suspension to outright revocation, before deciding on the eight-day suspension meted out over four weekends.

Rossi said if the establishment violates the 17-person occupancy limit before approval for expanding to 34 people, it will be subject to license revocation proceedings.

In other business, the commission took its annual vote to allow extended New Year’s Eve hours to 2 a.m.

The commission also approved giving a six-month extension to Samir, Inc. to find a new location to use a wine and malt beverage license.

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On Hold:‘Real Discussion’ Unfolds Regarding Small Liquor Bottles, Special Meeting Aug 28

On Hold:‘Real Discussion’ Unfolds Regarding Small Liquor Bottles, Special Meeting Aug 28

The Chelsea Licensing Commission has put on hold the ban of small liquor bottles (100 ml) after a hearing Tuesday night where numerous package store owners from the City came forward to protest the change.

The hearing came on the heels of the ban of “nip” bottles last month, with Chelsea being the first municipality to ban the sale of the one-shot bottles of liquor. That was to be followed up with the potential ban of small liquor bottles too. However, Chair Mark Rossi said the strong turnout from the liquor licensees in the City caused the Board to pause.

“They told us this would essentially put them out of business,” said Rossi. “The sales of small liquor bottles have been up since the ban on nips and the liquor stores were supplementing the lost income from nips with the 100 ml bottles. The positive on this is there was actually a dialog. This is the first time that has happened. Chelsea is the first municipality that has pub in a ban on nips. Based on that, it showed the community is serious about this issues. All parties considered this a problem.”

He said about half of the 16 package store license holders were at the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

The result is the ban has been put on hold, but a special meeting has been called for Aug. 28 and a voluntary ban has been called for.

“We are calling a special meeting to address this and pick up where we left off,” Rossi said. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen something like this.”

He said the liquor license holders were asked as a show of good faith to meet with the Police Department and voluntarily ban 100 ml bottles (particularly McCormack’s and Ruble) within 30 days. While the License Commission rarely meets in the summer, Rossi said they would call the special meeting for an update, with the hope being the ban can work informally.

Police Chief Brian Kyes said he is still for the ban, but was encouraged by the willingness of the liquor license holders during the meeting.

“Although the Chelsea Police strongly encourages the commission to proceed with the ban as proposed, I am encouraged that these licensed businesses are engaged in dialogue with the commission, the community and understanding their role in this serious issue,” he said. “Moving forward, we will continue to focus enforcement on any business that violates City licensing rules and state law, especially those that have such an adverse effect on the community.”

But not all was lost in the matter, which is an issue pushed by residents and several city councilors, including Councilor Roy Avellaneda.

Rossi said it was impressed on the liquor license holders that they need to be more connected to the community. He said it was interesting to note that none of them were as involved as they thought they were – particularly in things like the Chamber of Commerce or the local non-profits.

“The idea is we’re not looking to push anyone out of business, but to address a systemic, decades-old problem everyone agrees exists in Chelsea,” he said. “This is a positive step forward to address that issue…It’s important liquor store owners realize they are members of the community and aware of their actions on others. No one wants to go to the hair salon next to a liquor store where they have to step over the urine-soaked body of a perons passed out in the doorway.”

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Sending a Message:Plaza Mexico Keeps Licenses, Gets Six Month Suspension

Chelsea Police described a scene where family members struggled to keep the intestines of a 17-year-old boy in his stomach as they frantically banged on the back door of Plaza Mexico after being locked out by a manager following a brutal stabbing allegedly by a known drug dealer from Everett who frequents the establishment.

As the family pleaded for help and no one answered, the young man bled out until his father and a friend took him to MGH-Chelsea, which was closed.

Not only did the bar manager witness the stabbing and lock the victim out, according to police, neither he nor the scores and scores of patrons in the establishment call police.

The first and only 9-1-1 call came from the family of the victim, who were at the closed MGH and requested an ambulance immediately. The only call from the establishment came from employee Miguel Sanchez, who called the non-emergency police number and was heard on the audio recording playing a cat and mouse game about where he was at – first saying he was on scene and then, after about five minutes of back and forth with the dispatcher, admitting he wasn’t there, but had been informed by his staff of a fight.

“We had a 17-year-old that was eviscerated and could have bled to death and there was no help at the bar or from the bar for him,” said Capt. Keith Houghton. “Not even anyone inside called 9-1-1. They’re clientele, and there were a lot of people there that night who saw this, not one of them called police. We had to use the New York Police Department, the Connecticut State Police and many other agencies that don’t want to be named to track the suspect to the Bronx and arrest him due to the delay in notifying us. We could have easily tracked him to his Everett address if we had been alerted immediately…They’ve been penalized before and they’ve been suspended before so I don’t know what the threshold would be for higher sanctions here.”

Still, License Commissioners in the most recent saga of Plaza Mexico on Washington Avenue hesitated to pull the licenses from the restaurant and bar, coming up short in a 2-3 vote on revocation.

Those voting to revoke were Commissioners Roy Avellaneda and Joe Cooney. Those voting against were Chair Sylvia Guzman, Ken Umemba and Mark Rossi. Rossi was the deciding vote in not revoking, seemingly being all for stripping the license but reneging on that at the last minute.

Instead, Commissioners – who stripped the licenses of Las Palmas Lounge last month in a similar situation – opted to suspend Plaza Mexico’s alcohol and entertainment licenses for six months. They are also obligated to install a new management team, install more lighting in the back, install more cameras (they already have 16), hire a new security company with at least two personnel and put in a Panic Button if possible.

In discipline meted out last month by the Commission for separate incidents, Plaza Mexico will begin serving a seven-day closure on Monday, June 22, and will have their hours rolled back to 1 a.m. They will begin the six month suspension five days after getting official notice from the Commission, which could be later this month.

“The lack of call from patrons or anyone else is scary,” said Avellaneda. “Chelsea and the family are lucky that we didn’t have a young individual die that night. God knows with the delay…I think it is a miracle the kid didn’t die. I don’t think a change of manager is a solution here. What do our agents (police) have to do to send us a message? Produce a dead body?”

Umemba was the chief Commissioner arguing for a long suspension.

“I don’t think revocation is the ultimate solution,” he said. “We need to tread gingerly in rushing into total revocation of the licenses. I don’t want it to reverse on appeal. The evidence has to be overwhelming, and I haven’t seen this video [of the incident]. None of us have. We can’t because it is still part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Guzman was no pushover for the restaurant, and was very critical of Sanchez and other members of the current staff. However, she said she didn’t think the situation rose to the Palmas situation where the licenses were taken.

“Management and personnel are a systemic failure for this establishment,” she said. “The proposal for a fresh face and a new manager is not it. We still have Miguel… and the staff staying there. Their presence has not changed in many years…My vote [for revocation] on Palmas was because of cumulative things. Though they are similar, they are not the same…For that reason, I am thinking of a long suspension. I’m not quite there on revocation.”However, that 2-3 vote came as quite a surprise after deliberation. Many, even the applicant’s attorney David L’Esperance, seemed to feel that the writing was on the wall and the licenses were about to be taken.

Three votes seemed to be wrapped up, but Rossi changed at the last minute – seemingly erring on the side of caution with Umemba.

The night started out with Attorney L’Esperance admitting that the restaurant had major, systemic failures and that it proposed to enact a seven day closure and then come back with a complete revamp of policies and management.

They also proposed several other improvements as well.

“If it’s the manager and the staff that’s the issue, I’m willing to change whatever has to be changed,” said Geraldo Acunha, who is the manager of record. “I’ll be there full time to make sure things will go the way they should…I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do. we want to save the business.”

No one was buying it, however, especially the police who said they were at a “180-degree” difference with the management on what has occurred there and what needs to be done.

Capt. Houghton indicated that a new manager would probably be a straw.

“There’s a term called a straw,” he said. “They’re going to get someone clean and put them up and the same people are going to run the business. We know that. I think the Commission knows that. They say the owner is going to resign. How is that going to work?”

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