Proposed recreational pot shop is acceptable 400 feet from school complex, officials decide

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The King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School complex opened in September for the school year. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The School Committee declined to oppose a proposed recreational cannabis dispensary at 966 Cambridge St., formerly Harvard Glass. The motion was submitted by member Fred Fantini due to the dispensary’s “proximity to the King Open Complex, numerous preschools and the Frisoli Youth Center,” and Fantini wound up being the sole vote for it.

Fantini said he brought the motion based on extensive conversations with families in the neighborhood who are concerned about the prospective shop’s proximity to the schools, though no speakers from the neighborhood appeared during public comment.

The Advesa MA dispensary would be in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood roughly 400 feet from the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School complex – which reopened in September but gets a public opening celebration and tour Oct. 26 after a $159 million, three-year refresh.

A recreational cannabis shop is proposed for a former glass store about two minutes’ walk from the school complex. (Photo: Google)

State law sets the buffer around cannabis stores at 500 feet, but local communities can set lower buffer zones. 

The city’s original zoning also said that a cannabis store or production facility could not be within 500 feet of “a school, daycare center, preschool or after-school facility or any facility in which children commonly congregate.” But the City Council voted to reduce the buffer at its Sept. 23 meeting, concluding that the city’s density and number of child-centered spaces would makes it difficult for prospective retailers to find qualified retail space.

The new language reduces the buffer zone to 300 feet and narrows the restrictive uses to a “pre‐existing public or private school providing education in kindergarten or any of grades one through 12,” and “a pre‐existing public children’s playground, public youth athletic field, or public youth recreation facility.”

Fantini said Advesa held a public meeting July 26 that he felt was not widely publicized and gave only limited speaking time (one hour). There have been no further community meetings, but Advesa representatives said they hoped to submit an application to the Planning Board on Friday, beginning the next round of community input to the project.

Advesa had three representatives speak during public comment: Gerry McDonough, its attorney; John Sprague, a security consultant; and Shanel Lindsay, its executive director.

McDonough said he understands the opposition from neighbors.

“We want to make this a safe and secure location for a business that meets all requirements of the zoning laws,” McDonough said. “We want to be good neighbors and keep the neighborhood safe, keep [cannabis] away from young people.”

In his opposition to Fantini’s motion, Mayor Marc McGovern pointed out that cannabis businesses are subject to constraints that include the buffer zone, no window displays, no coupons, no discounts, having security on site and requiring an ID to both enter the store and make purchases. 

Member Patty Nolan agreed, observing that 70 percent of the voters in nearby precincts in Cambridge voted to legalize cannabis. State law also sets the number of cannabis stores allowed at 20 percent of the number of liquor stores, which for Cambridge will be eight cannabis stores.

Members Manikka Bowman, Emily Dexter, Kathleen Kelly and Laurance Kimbrough joined McGovern and Nolan in opposing the motion. Fantini did not respond immediately Friday when asked for further comment.

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