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Happy Valley Takes Next Step in Closing Mary Ann’s Sale, Converting Bar to Dispensary

As the sale of Mary Ann’s Bar to Happy Valley Ventures (HVV)—which intends to turn the Cleveland Circle staple into a dispensary—moves closer to becoming a reality, Boston College administrators reiterated their steadfast stance against the company’s plans Monday night at a community meeting in Brighton where HVV higher-ups presented their proposal to residents.

Michael Reardon, HVV’s co-founder and COO, and Jeff Drago, representing HVV in its efforts to navigate the different steps to establishing a dispensary in Boston, were the primary presenters at the meeting.

BC Chief of Police Bill Evans and Tom Keady, vice president of governmental and community affairs, voiced their opposition to the opening of a dispensary down the street from the University. Keady said he spoke on behalf of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., decrying the opening of the location within a mile of multiple early education schools, as well as within a half-mile of BC.

“You can’t tell me that one of the [reasons HVV wants to invest] here is Boston College and Boston University,” Keady said. “We are adamantly opposed to this.”

The vice president cited Brighton High School, the Thomas Edison School that serves K-8 students, and St. Columbkille Partnership School—a grammar school—as being too close to the potential dispensary location for Brighton residents to support the proposal.

HVV’s presentation said that Boston zoning laws require cannabis establishments to be at least 500 feet from any pre-existing public or private schools providing K-12 education and at least a half-mile from any existing cannabis establishment.

The University is also concerned about the dispensary, Keady said, since students who are arrested for smoking pot could put their financial aid at risk, since most BC aid comes from the federal government.

“We are going to fight this and fight this and fight this, because we have 8,900 students who come here in August and leave in May,” Keady said.

Evans cited mental health concerns brought up in a New York Times op-ed and the potential for drug-related violent crimes as the reasons he has been against legalization and now is against the opening of a dispensary so close to BC’s campus, as well as the schools populated completely by minors.

“Growing up as an inner-city kid in South Boston, I’ve seen what continuous pot use can do,” Evans said. “I had a lot of good friends who were well-educated who developed mental illnesses, so this is more personal to me because I grew up in a poorer neighborhood and I think it’s going to affect poorer neighborhoods.”

The HVV presentation walked attendees through the changes a dispensary would bring to the Mary Ann’s location, as well as exactly how customers would go through the dispensary to make purchases. HVV and the company it has brought in to consult on the project, 4Front, estimate that 165 customers will be served each business day based on reduced occupancy in the building and industry standards in regard to how many customers are typically served per hour.

Residents at the meeting pushed back against this, citing stories released when pot shops initially opened elsewhere in Massachusetts that said overcrowding had become a issue in the towns where those shops are located.

HVV representatives said that opening a store in Boston near public transportation would ease many of these issues—people would not be crossing state borders to get to a dispensary in Cleveland Circle and parking would not be an issue since there are three green line stations nearby in addition to multiple bus routes running through the area.

Some residents said that the addition of a dispensary would have too much of a negative impact on Cleveland Circle. They disagreed with the idea that Massachusetts and Boston residents wouldn’t flock to Cleveland Circle when the dispensary opened and disapproved of the culture surrounding marijuana becoming a staple in Cleveland Circle’s own culture. Twelve business owners in Cleveland Circle presented a letter of opposition to Ed McGuire, a member of Boston planning and development on hand to oversee the meeting.

Property value, potential smoking in the area, potential creation of more black markets for selling weed, and the proximity of a dispensary to schools—most notably to BC’s campus—were other issues brought up by opponents over the course of the two hour meeting.

Other residents at the meeting voiced their support for the proposal—some appreciated the idea of adding the dispensary as a business proposal, others were glad to see a dispensary opening up near public transit so that congestion, due to the fact that parking wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it has been elsewhere. Some were happy that HVV is planning on doing extensive renovations to the Mary Ann’s building, referring to it as an “eyesore.”

Some of the testiest moments of the night came when residents argued over whether BC students would be seriously affected by the introduction of a dispensary in place of Mary Ann’s. Some residents at the meeting, however, said that if students wanted to “ruin their lives,” they could choose how they wanted to do so.

Reardon, Drago, and Sam Tracy of 4Front answered many of the audience’s questions: They reassured residents that smoking outside, whether in Cleveland Circle or otherwise, is illegal.

They said that a large part of why they were interested in buying Mary Ann’s to open a dispensary was the appeal of opening a dispensary near so much public transit, and that as a group they would work to found a friends of Cleveland Circle foundation to encourage further investment in the community.

Their presentation noted that visual ID would be checked four times during the process of purchasing marijuana at the dispensary and that prices, though competitive, would be not be so low that selling HVV products on the black market would be appealing. In addition, if customers are found to be reselling HVV product, those customers will be banned from the store. HVV will not tolerate loitering or illegal parking, according to HVV’s presentation, and will enforce that through the security HVV plans to hire as a part of its workforce.

They also noted that ingredients in HVV products that are linked to side effects such as psychosis, such as THC, would be disclosed as a part of the displays showing which products HVV puts on sale.

Members of the audience were particularly interested in how HVV would work to improve the community. Supporters were happy to hear of such plans, but urged Reardon and Co. to update the community on how those efforts materialize, since HVV representatives said that no concrete plans beyond renovating the Mary Ann’s space had begun. Reardon and Drago did urge Brighton residents to contact the group with any input on how a friends of Cleveland Circle foundation could help.

Residents who are against opening a dispensary in the location were more skeptical of the idea of a foundation, with one resident saying it will only serve as an opportunity for HVV to “bribe” the community or people in power. They seconded one of Evans’ criticisms as well: The idea that being “better than Mary Ann’s” was an argument in favor of introducing a dispensary to the area wasn’t one they found particularly convincing.

HVV also mentioned the company is planning on emphasizing local hiring in order to provide more employment opportunities to the community as a part of its integration into Cleveland Circle.

Representatives of the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) District 14 voiced their opposition to the opening of a dispensary location and criticized HVV for not getting in contact with anyone at District 14 to discuss potential pitfalls of opening a dispensary and how to deal with those.

At this point, HVV has the support of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association, which voted in favor of the proposed dispensary in October, received a letter of non-opposition from inspectional services, and has now met with neighboring business owners.

Greatest Boston Bar Co. bought Mary Ann’s in July and entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with HVV in October. The sale of the bar will be able to progress when the city of Boston signs off on the dispensary opening.

The next important step in that process is a hearing in front of the zoning board of appeals, which will take into account the concerns and support residents and businesses have indicated before making a decision on whether HVV will be allowed to open the dispensary.

Featured Image from Heights Archives

January 8, 2019