Boston stumbles on pot shop ordinance

A cannabis shop buffer zone of half a mile approved by Mayor Martin Walsh recently created mayhem at a Zoning Board of Appeal meeting. Why? Because Walsh’s administration approved two cannabis shops less than a half a mile apart, in potential violation of its own city ordinance.

From the get-go, city officials said marijuana companies can seek exceptions to the half-mile buffer zone, but no one did in this instance.

Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin first described the unprecedented legal kerfuffle the board was placed in when it voted to approve Berkshire Roots for a Meridian Street location, but then took up a proposal from East Boston Bloom LLC, which would be based 0.4 miles away from Berkshire Roots. Berkshire Roots was put at a disadvantage because of where it was on the agenda.

“We are put in a pretty ridiculous situation here,” acting ZBA Chairman Mark Erlich said. Board members voted to defer any action to April 9, when East Boston Bloom LLC must convince the board it merits approval. Before then the board must clarify with the city if such an approval can even be made.

Interestingly, a letter to the editor from Walsh was published in the New York Times last week, touting “equity” and “diversity” in Boston’s retail contract agreements with pot store owners. East Boston Bloom is minority owned.

A city official confirmed at the zoning board meeting that the Walsh administration did in fact sign a host agreement with both applicants, but didn’t offer further advice on how to deal with the matter. The zoning board is the last hurdle before businesses can apply to the Cannabis Control Commission for a license.

The city’s regulation says any pot shop has to be at least a half-mile away from “another existing cannabis establishment,” but, as the Boston Globe points out, what does “existing” mean?

Universal Hub noted that a possible solution, offered by East Boston Blooms, was to interpret the ordinance as the distance between currently existing pot shops, with existing meaning stores that are actually open right now. Obviously, neither location is open.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards said that anyone within the half-mile radius could have the ability to file a lawsuit about the matter, miring shop owners, and potentially the city, in years of litigation. She said at the meeting she wishes “the city had taken leadership” on the issue.

Walsh administration officials say they’ve interpreted the ordinance to strictly apply to businesses that are established and open. “If, for example, one of the businesses had already been established and opened, the city likely would not have considered another business that was in the half-mile buffer zone,” a spokesperson told the Globe in a statement. “But since neither business was yet established, the city moved forward” with host agreements for each company “to ensure no applicants were held back.”

Now the mayor’s office is saying the zoning board can waive the half-mile requirement and grant variances to both applicants. But the zoning board insists clarity should have been given on the matter, since this is the first time the buffer zone question has been raised.

-SARAH BETANCOURT

 

BEACON HILL

Senate President Karen Spilka testifies in support of her bill that would let people who identify as neither male or female have drivers licenses that identify their sex as “X.” The same would hold true for birth records. “Not everyone fits neatly into the traditional categories of male or female,” she said. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker makes few changes in the state’s second RFP for an offshore wind farm to avoid delays that could jeopardize the project’s ability to take advantage of a federal tax credit. He didn’t side with officials from southeastern Massachusetts who said the RFP should be altered to give a higher priority to the onshore investment a wind developer would make. (CommonWealth)

Five Republicans vote present as the Senate joins the House in overwhelmingly passing legislation banning conversion therapy on anyone under 18. (State House News)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s road safety legislation gets a hearing at the State House, and the same concerns about safety and racial profiling surface. (CommonWealth) A MetroWest Daily News editorial backs the legislation.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is backing legislation to require federal background checks on anyone who buys or is given a gun in Massachusetts. (Salem News)

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are pushing an excise tax on sugary soft drinks and marketing restrictions to reduce the targeting of young people. (State House News)

DigBoston editor Jason Pramas argues that rent control is the much needed tenant protection policy that everyone has been waiting for amid rising housing costs. Reps. Nika Elugardo, Mike Connolly, and a coalition of other state legislators are about to file related legislation.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Residents of Woods Hole say there was not enough public input in the design process for three new architectural options for the new Steamship Authority ferry terminal. (Cape Cod Times)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter says the state of the city is “under construction,” making a litany of announcements and proposals for the future of the community at his annual address — from new “destination” restaurants in the downtown area, to a plan to veto a sanctuary city policy that’s now under consideration by the City Council. (Brockton Enterprise)

Brookline says it should not have to resume paying firefighter Gerald Alston, despite a February ruling that he had been improperly fired after claiming racial discrimination at the fire department. The Massachusetts Civil Service Commission ordered the town to reinstate Alston more than a month ago, concluding that Brookline had failed to address his valid claims of discriminatory and retaliatory behavior by his coworkers (WGBH)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Rep. Richard Neal, a cautious pol who prefers to work both sides of the aisle, is facing a big challenge in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington as well as the activist-fueled climate of his Western Massachusetts district. (CommonWealth)

President Trump had bounce in his step as he held his first rally since the release of the summary of the Mueller report. (Boston Globe) The AP fact-checked his speech and finds a string of problems, starting with his continued misstating of the electoral vote tally of the 2016 race to false claims of a huge comeback of Michigan’s auto industry.

Natasha Sarin and Larry Summers offer up the second installment of their two-part op-ed series laying out an alternative tax reform approach to the ones laid out by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

You’ve been reading all about wunderkind presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg. Now learn a bit about his husband Chasten, courtesy of Joanna Weiss. (Politico)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Zoning Board of Appeals in Hyannis has unanimously voted that it had no jurisdiction to grant T-Mobile either a special permit or use-variance to install antennas in the steeple of the Centerville Congregational Church. (Cape Cod Times)

EDUCATION

North Andover school officials are rescinding a controversial school safety plan that led them to place restrictions on the movement within the town’s high school of girls who were alleged to be victims of sexual assaults by a classmate at the school. (Eagle-Tribune)

Against the backdrop of mounting financial problems at small private colleges, the incoming president of Endicott College in Beverly says the four-year school is in good fiscal shape. (Gloucester Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Nine young people overdosed, three of them fatally, while under the watch last year of the state’s Department of Children and Families. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

WBUR offers a very upbeat assessment of the Boston arts scene through the eyes of 25 young artists of color.  “We focused on young people of color, recognizing that diverse creatives have historically been under-credited, underfunded or unnoticed. Cultural equity requires intentionality,” the report says.

TRANSPORTATION

Driver beware: Two years of lane restrictions begin on the Tobin Bridge start on Monday. (Boston Herald)

MBTA officials met with residents in Mattapan on plans to eventually replace the historic trolleys on the Mattapan line with regular Green Line vehicles. The biggest concern was the sad state of the line currently and how quickly change can come. (Dorchester Reporter)

The T is renaming its Yawkey Station commuter rail stop Lansdowne, the latest move to blot out the moniker of the former Red Sox owner. (Boston Globe)

Coach Co. is discontinuing its bus service between Peabody and Boston as ridership is down. (Daily Item)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, discusses the impact a federal seismic testing approval process is having on Right Whales. (WGBH)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Lawyers for Robert Kraft moved to toss out the video evidence prosecutors gathered from the Florida spa where he’s accused of paying a sex worker for services. The lawyers argued the warrant approving the surveillance was obtained under false pretenses that the spa was the site of human trafficking operation. (Boston Globe)

A federal appeals court vacated the dismissal of corruption charges against two Boston City Hall aides, meaning prosecutors could move to bring them to trial after all. (Boston Globe)

The former Yale women’s soccer coach pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to charges related to the college admission bribery scandal. (Boston Globe)

Four State Police troopers who were suspended without pay over suspicions of overtime abuse get their jobs back after the Civil Service Commission ruled the action was unjustified. (MassLive)

Brockton Police say three local men were part of a drug network that was run out of Stoughton and had a nationwide reach. Detectives say the accused used the dark web and accepted payments for MDMA and ketamine through Bitcoin. (Brockton Enterprise)

Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins goes on the air to defend her policies to Howie Carr, who isn’t buying. (Boston Herald)

Vandals destroyed the Lynn Boys and Girls Club camp in Middleton. (Daily Item)

MEDIA

Frustrated with the departure of Charlie Kravetz as station general manager, the WBUR Board of Overseers says it wants to spin off the outlet from Boston University’s control. BU says it has no intention of transferring ownership of the station but is willing to talk about new management models. Kravetz, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen at the station since it was announced he was leaving. (WBUR)