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Lowell Councilors Get Earful on Pot Shops

December 19, 2018

LOWELL -- Cities and towns home to recreational marijuana dispensaries receive 3 percent of the companies’ gross annual revenue.

But what price tag do you put on a neighborhood?

That’s what former Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfield asked city councilors, amid concerns about four potential recreational marijuana shops overwhelming the Highlands section of the city.

“You cannot inundate one neighborhood,” Caulfield said at Tuesday’s City Council Cannabis Control Subcommittee meeting.

His comments came one day before a community outreach meeting for a recreational marijuana proposal at the corner of Stedman and Westford streets in the Highlands.

Wellman Farm, Inc. hopes to open a facility there, at an intersection that already has major traffic issues, officials and residents stressed at Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting.

“Anyone who would decide that location, they have their head in the sand,” Caulfield told councilors.

The City Council earlier this year voted to limit the number of recreational marijuana dispensaries to five across the city.

Patriot Care, Corp., located on Industrial Avenue East, is the only company with a host agreement for a dispensary, and hopes to open as early as January.

That leaves seven entities vying for four licenses in Lowell.

The dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of one another, but residents in the Highlands remain worried about four potential locations nearby.

City Manager Eileen Donoghue said it’s up to her working group to decide which companies get approved, based on the criteria.

“We’re doing the best we can to try to evaluate each one and come up with the mandated number we have to issue,” she said.

“We aren’t doing anything in haste,” Donoghue added. “We’re taking our time to deliberate. It’s important to get this right.”

Traffic and parking are major issues for these companies. The small town of Leicester in Central Massachusetts has faced extraordinary traffic in the wake of a store opening there, one of the first two statewide.

Because of the extreme traffic, the city manager recently asked for additional information about traffic demand and mitigation plans for each proposed business.

Eric Slagle, director of Development Services in Lowell, said they’re encouraging the companies to adopt an appointment-only model, like the Salem dispensary that opened Saturday.

“It’s the smartest thing to do with traffic,” Slagle said.

As part of its Planning Board process with the city, Patriot Care submitted a transportation demand management plan, which was reviewed and accepted by the Planning Board.

As their opening has gotten closer, Patriot Care has been working with the Lowell Police Department regarding a potential spike in traffic after opening.

Slagle emphasized that Patriot Care would pay for police details, not the city. The city manager said, however, that they cannot rely on police details getting filled.

“We’re going to look at every aspect these companies are putting forward for traffic and parking,” Donoghue said.

The City Council does not approve host community agreements, but some councilors said it’s important for the council to see the agreements before Donoghue signs them, considering the major traffic concerns.

City Councilor Dave Conway made a motion for the city manager to show the council agreements before she executes it.

“It’d be important to bring them before the council just for discussion,” City Councilor Rodney Elliott said.

Wellman Farm has not received a license, but on Wednesday they’re holding a community outreach meeting -- a public forum required by the Cannabis Control Commission’s state licensing regulations.

In addition to residents, City Councilor Rita Mercier stressed the traffic nightmare at the intersection of Stedman and Westford streets.

“I can’t see adding more traffic into the mix,” Mercier said.

She also pointed out that the property is near a landfill.

“If that site is chosen, there must be a thorough inspection of that building for methane gas,” Caulfield added.

Wednesday’s community outreach meeting is at 1 p.m. at 16 Stedman St., across the street from the proposed store.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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