Marijuana retailer Ascend Mass LLC appeared Tuesday before the Newton City Council’s Land Use Committee, presenting its second petition to convert the former Beacon Hill Athletic Club on 1089 Washington Street/58 Cross St. into a recreational cannabis store.
Framingham-based cannabis retailer Union Twist also petitioned for a new shop at 1158 Beacon St. in the Four Corners area on Tuesday.
The Land Use Committee unanimously voted to hold both petitions.
Ascend has pursued the location at the corner of Washington and Cross streets since last year but had to re-petition because of a City Council rule requiring petitions not acted upon by the end of term to be renewed.
Although public arguments were also heard on Union Twist’s petition, it did not end in a vote because the independent transportation engineer tasked with reviewing with the site had not sent over the required report.
Members of the public voiced their concerns about traffic, parking, the lack of public bathrooms, landscaping and hours of operation. About a dozen members of the public left the hearing at once after no vote was taken.
“I’m absolutely for having cannabis dispensaries, but this dispensary is not in a proper location,” Newton-based attorney Michelle Carron, 56, said in an interview.
Constituents on both sides of the issue expressed frustration with the slow-moving nature of the petitions, as Ascend has appeared before the council on six different occasions regarding the Washington Street location, though this was the first public hearing on the new petition filed this year.
“I’m very upset, I have been to many of these meetings and they are virtually identical, they just want to focus on the minor details,” retired Newton public school teacher Jane Frantz, 71, said. “This is the fifth meeting on this one permit, and I’m concerned about the message this is sending.”
In September, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller granted the two retailers provisional host community agreements needed to open a marijuana business in the city, allowing both Union Twist and Ascend to file a special application to open recreational marijuana shops.
Due to Tuesday’s vote postponement, the proposed locations for Ascend and Union Twist have yet to receive approval from the City Council or a state license from the Cannabis Control Commission. Both Ascend and Union Twist plan to make their properties appointment-only dispensaries in accordance with city law. Another retailer, Cypress Tree Management, has mayoral and city approval for a dispensary on Elliot Street, but not the state’s.
Newton’s first and only marijuana store, Garden Remedies on Washington Street, opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2016 and began recreational sales last spring.
In an interview, Land Use Committee Chair Richard Lipof said that since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016, many residents have raised concerns about cannabis retail in Newton.
“These are fears that maybe were justified in the beginning, but now we have dispensaries open and we know that marijuana is acting much like liquor stores,” he said.
As the Chair of the Land Use Committee, Lipof said his primary concern was acting in accordance with the law.
“As somebody involved in approving these, I follow the law,” said Lipof. “It is my committee’s responsibility to decide whether -- based on traffic, parking and other neighborhood concerns -- the petition is worthy of approval.”
Some residents said they were concerned about either their residential or workplace proximity to Ascend’s proposed location at Washington and Cross streets.
Newton resident and software engineer Joe Lee, 62, who lives within a block of the location, said he hasn’t felt heard throughout the planning process.
“As an across-street neighbor from the site, I want to get along with the Ascend store. However, our safety and security issues must be addressed and my concerns should not be ignored or cut short,” Lee said. “How can I get along with a new neighbor if I’m being ignored?”
Union Twist chief executive Marie St. Fleur said she saw the hearing as an “opportunity” to address the public’s concerns.
“We intend to be good corporate neighbors. We will incorporate their suggestions to the extent we can, especially with the traffic issues,” St. Fleur said.
Despite many attendees citing parking and traffic concerns, Lipof said vehicular congestion has not been an issue at Garden Remedies.
“Traffic and parking at Ascend and Union Twist are major issues that we’re working on, and that is why these petitions are taking as long as they have,” Lipof said.
Some constituents voiced concerns about cannabis retailers potentially doing more harm than good for the community, especially when it comes to traffic and potential impact on youth.
“We don’t want to put anything in this community to hurt it,” Newton native and Ascend attorney Mike Ross said after the meeting.
Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 with 54 percent of Newton voters approving legalization. In 2018, Newton voters rejected a ban on recreational marijuana shops and allowed for at least eight shops to be established, equivalent to 20 percent of the liquor licenses in the city.
“It’s hard to see how we’re going to get to eight if we have to have five, six public hearings on these shops,” Councilor Alicia Bowman said.
K. Sophie Will and Zoe Allen can be reached at email@example.com.