The Boston Cannabis Board (BCB) pulled a surprise on The Heritage Club last Wednesday, Nov. 18, rejecting their application outright and telling them to go back to the community and do more work on traffic and the Sullivan Square location – which one Commissioner said she felt was not appropriate.
The 5-0 vote featured a round robin of rebukes on the application – the first Charlestown application to go before the BCB – and led to the breakup of the partnership between owners and high school friends Nike John and Maggie Suprey.
“Maggie actually has a different location she’s interested in but I’m going ahead here in Town on my own,” said John late last week, after the rejection vote. “This time with guidance from the Councilor (Edwards), which I’m excited about.”
Suprey didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the matter.
The drama couldn’t be more melodramatic for the Town’s first license.
Apparently, Councilor Edwards and John had a lunch meeting just prior to the Nov. 18 BCB meeting without Suprey. Edwards apparently convinced John, who owns 51 percent of the company, to seek a deferral from the vote on Nov. 18 instead of going forward. The councilor supported that move, and John made the request last-minute to the Board ahead of the meeting.
It was to no avail.
In a meeting that saw busy locations on Boylston Street (Little Steve’s Pizza) get an up vote despite wide community opposition – including Mayor Martin Walsh’s office – the BCB was not about to grant the deferral and instead called the Lost Village location inappropriate and chose to reject the proposal altogether.
That action came as a surprise to many after the quiet and somewhat muted deliberations of the BCB at the applicant’s hearing on Nov. 12 – where BCB Commissioners asked standard questions and didn’t seem surprised by any of the answers. There was, however, wide community opposition at that hearing, as well as a now-famous and animated speech in opposition by Councilor Lydia Edwards – notably opposing an equity applicant for which she has helped to craft special rules that give preference to such applicants.
Chair Kathleen Joyce said she was aware of the deferral request, but preferred to reject Heritage and ask them to return to the community to gain more support.
“Our staff reached out last week (Nov. 12) and offered them a deferral before they even appeared before us for last week’s hearing,” she said. “They have met requirements of ours for filing a complete application…There are significant concerns in the neighborhood about traffic. There are more concerns about an emerging industry like this and the impact it will have on this neighborhood. These are real quality of life issues. I think this application presents an opportunity to better understand what these impacts would be on this neighborhood and I think that would be solved by a Traffic Study. Not all applicants that appear before us need to have a Traffic Study, but this location the traffic issues we heard about and the traffic we know about in this area, I feel it’s absolutely within our purview that the applicant go back and do the Traffic Study.”
Joyce added that Heritage needed to do a better job with their process. Their time from application to hearing took only three months, she noted, while other applicants on the agenda Nov. 18 had been in process sometimes for two years already.
“I do think the process they went through in the last three months can be improved,” said Joyce. “I think that requires more community process. I think there are real significant differences between what we’ve seen in their application, what we heard last week and those of the other equity applicants we’ve had before us in the last couple of months.”
Commissioner Darlene Lombos said a Traffic Study isn’t something they usually require, but said it did make some sense here.
“I was going to ask about the Transportation Study because we haven’t required that before, but it does seem like there is a need for it given all the public comment about it,” she said.
She also said she felt there was probably wisdom in rejecting the matter and sending it back.
“Similarly, I think it would be good to go back and talk to community members about it and in particular the Councilor (Edwards),” she said.
Member Alejandra St. Guillen said she agreed with Joyce, but also wanted to clarify the new concept of requiring a Traffic Study, as it’s something that could be requested of nearly every applicant in many of Boston’s congested neighborhoods.
“There were a lot of positive aspects of this application, but definitely thought in a location like this a traffic study would be necessary and moving forward, it might be something for the Council to decide who and when and where Traffic Studies should be required. I think there are a lot of areas in Boston where it would be necessary to make sure it would work for the community.”
Joyce was also adamant about the ownership situation with Heritage, and said it would likely be an example for all equity applicants to spell out exactly what their ownership situation is and what they hope it to be. She called for filings that would explain it in depth and consistently so it doesn’t feel like the Board is hearing one thing, and the community is hearing another thing.
She also said she felt strongly about not giving the deferral.
“I feel very strongly they have to go back and meet with the community again and figure out what we find out from the traffic,” she said. “They were given the opportunity to defer until they had that info before and they chose not to defer and I think based on these things – and it’s not in a putative way – but I feel really strong about the community meeting.”
She made the motion to reject without prejudice, and that was approved. The action means that Heritage – if they get their ducks in line very quickly – could be in front of the Board again in December given they are an equity applicant. If things take more time, that could drag out into 2021 some time. Heritage, however, will be moving on with just John at the helm taking direction and queues from Councilor Edwards, she said, and they will have to submit a new application to the BCB
One other comment by Joyce served as a warning to Heritage, and also to the other applicant on Cambridge Street – Resilient Remedies brought by Jack Kelly and investors Dot Joyce and Kevin Joyce. Commissioner Kathleen Joyce finished her comments by saying the Cambridge Street location wasn’t a good location. Given that both Charlestown applicants find their home on Cambridge Street, it was certainly noteworthy.
“I’m not convinced this location is right for this type of business,” Joyce said.
Heritage Club did have the support of Mayor Walsh’s Office.