The Lost Village has been found.
Scores of residents from the Charlestown neighborhood on the other side of I-93, often called the Lost Village, showed up on Tuesday night to speak strongly against a proposal to locate a marijuana dispensary on Cambridge Street.
The Bloominus team, led locally by former Councilor Sal LaMattina, presented their plan to demolish an existing building on Cambridge Street and put $1 million into renovating the second building behind it.
The idea would be to apply for a co-located medical and recreational marijuana store, said CEO Mark DeAngelis – who now lives in the suburbs, but had done business in Charlestown some years ago.
“I know we will take an interest in Charlestown and will do the right thing in Charlestown by giving back to the neighborhood,” he said. “We have a chance to do recreational marijuana right…We want to be good neighbors and we want to be friends.”
None of it mattered, however, as many Charlestown residents – and even more Lost Village residents – came out to protest the siting of the store in their neighborhood. While many don’t even recognize the Lost Village is part of Charlestown (and many times that also includes the City of Boston), those in the neighborhood said their area of the Town is not only lost, but also increasingly dangerous.
They said they routinely find drug dealing, they fight a troubled Dunkin’ Donuts location, they find people shooting up on their property, and they find the short walk to Sullivan Station dangerous.
In short, neighbors nearly unanimously opposed the site.
Paul Townes of Perkins Street said it is a big step back for a neighborhood that struggles to not be the dumping ground.
“People don’t want to go to Sullivan Square because it’s dangerous,” he said. “We have positive construction at Assembly Square, we have positive construction at Union Square, we have positive construction on Rutherford Avenue and we have positive construction in Charlestown proper, but everything dumped on us in our neighborhood is negative. This is not a positive direction for our neighborhood. This is a good opportunity for our neighborhood not to go down that path of being the dumping ground.”
David Brewster said he works at Mass General and is actually for recreational marijuana as a policy matter, but he doesn’t believe this proposal will work.
“I was walking home the other day and saw paramedics looking in the back of a car, and someone had OD’d again,” he said. “This is what happens day to day in our area. We’ve worried this is going to add another layer to what we’re already experiencing. It’s not the ODs we’re worried about, but the additional trash behavior from people who are high. Keep in mind I support recreational marijuana.”
Longtime resident Karen Burns said they have had problems with drug activity, and have also recently had a strange massage parlor pop up on Cambridge Street. With a bar, a liquor store, a troubled Dunkin’ Donuts and a lot of bad street activity, she said it was hard to see how a marijuana dispensary could improve the scene.
“No offense to anyone here, but people often give to the Charlestown non-profits on the other side and we get nothing,” she said. “As you can see, no one even knows we are Charlestown.”
Burns also wanted to clarify why the owners thought they could compete with the existing Revolutionary medical marijuana clinic that is about one-quarter mile away and just over the Somerville line.
“What is different about you that would make people want to come to you and not them?” she asked.
Corey Barnette, the grower for the group and an experienced marijuana entrepreneur from Washington, D.C., said his other dispensaries offer better service and a more dignified atmosphere. That, he said, would be the case if he were allowed to open here.
“Everywhere we rolled out what we do, our dispensaries tend to get preferred because of our service,” he said. “That’ what makes us different and why people drive past my competition in D.C. to get to my shop.”
Others from the Town felt it wasn’t a good fit due to the historic nature of drug and alcohol problems in Charlestown.
“I understand it’s a green gold rush right now – get the money while you can – but in this community we’ve had to deal with substance abuse issues 20, 30 and 40 years,” said Shawn Burke. “I don’t think this is a wise choice and I don’t think it’s a good understanding of the community’s history.”
DeAngelis, however, said he does understand the history of substance abuse and is sympathetic to it. In fact, he said, he and his company believe that marijuana availability could actually improve the opiate problem in the Town.
“One reason I wanted to get into this business is we need alternatives to opiates,” he said. “There is a lot of research that says this is an exit drug and not a gateway drug. I know the history of Charlestown…We don’t want to make things worse; we want to make things better.”
That set many in the room off, as they felt the pain of years of loss and heartache was being marginalized in order to sell pot and make money.
“Don’t come in on the back door acting like you’re doing us a favor,” said an emotional Elaine Donovan. “That’s insulting. We don’t need you. You need us. You came to us. We don’t need you to come in here and act like you’re saving us when you are a business and you want to make money.”
Added Mary Boucher, a member of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, “I don’t think our Town is ready for this. When it comes to your mitigation and giving back, I’m not comfortable with this money going to youth sports. I know it’s a hot thing now, but we’re not ready.”
Bloominus CFO Joe St. Martin said they do believe in the power of marijuana to heal opiate abuse.
“We happen to believe marijuana can help with opiates,” he said. “We do believe that. You may not believe it. You can think of us any way you want, but this is an honest group. We are a business and we do want to make money, but we truly want to be part of this community.”
The property owners, Paul Perisie and his brother of Acme Bookbinding, said Bloominus has a lease on the property. He did say that the company is trustworthy.
“The reason we decided to entertain this opportunity to bring to Charlestown is we want this location to be better than it is,” he said. “We see Dunkin’ Donuts. It hurts us too. I know Mark, and you all don’t. He’ll do everything he says they will do. They will be better than anyone else in this industry. I think you should listen to them.”
The application, which is accepted and process by the City, will be open for public comment for some time. That will close when they get a date at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – which handles all marijuana applications. At some point, Bloominus will have a date before the ZBA, which is an open meeting.