Marijuana establishment attorney says Cogliano’s criticisms about company’s permit application aren’t true; provides selectmen with a detailed letter disputing “misconceptions”
By Mark E. Vogler
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano has been outspoken in his criticism of the Marijuana Establishment Review Committee (MERC), particularly its ranking of Ulma Flowers as the best-suited location for an adult-use cannabis business in Saugus.
“I toured Uma Flowers who you guys said was the number one applicant, and I didn’t see anything there that would lead me to believe that they are the number one,” Cogliano said during a selectmen’s meeting last week with Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree.
“They have the worst location,” Cogliano said of Uma’s store in Pepperell. “They have the worst store. The smallest store. We are trying to find locations that would make money for Saugus, and eliminate problems in Saugus, and I don’t think that the report addressed that,” he said, referring to the MERC report.
But Uma Flowers, with a proposed location at 24 Broadway (Route 1 North), was the unanimous selection of the seven-member MERC, achieving a perfect score of 140 total points, based on an “exceptional” rating by each member in each of the five categories that were considered.
Uma’s attorney this week took issue with several of Cogliano’s criticisms and sent a letter to him and other members of the board, which is considering the applications of seven companies seeking special (S-2) permits to locate a retail marijuana business in Saugus. “In an effort to clear up inaccuracies that I heard listening to the September 13th and 25th meetings of the Saugus Board of Selectmen regarding Uma Flowers’ proposal and qualifications to develop and operate a marijuana retailer at 24 Broadway I have drafted the attached letter,” Attorney Valerio Romano wrote in an Oct. 3 letter to selectmen.
“We look forward to meeting on October 10th and hope the Board members have the opportunity to review the attached before then,” Romano said.
Selectmen held two nights of hearings with Uma and the six other applicants last month and are expected to resume discussion of the S-2 applicants. If a company receives the unanimous backing of the four selectmen who will vote, the next step would be to enter into a host community agreement with the town manager. And, finally, the Cannabis Control Commission would have to issue them a license.
Selectman Jeff Cicolini recused himself from any vote because of a potential conflict of interest – one of the seven companies is a client of his accounting firm. Selectmen can issue a maximum three S-2 permits. But it will require a four-fifths approval, which means there will have to be a consensus of the four selectmen who will be voting.
Attorney Romano noted in his letter to selectmen that he doesn’t expect Uma to be one of the companies receiving an S-2 permit. “GIVEN THE PROHIBITION OF SITING TWO RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS WITHIN 1,000 FEET OF EACH OTHER IN THE SAUGUS ZONING BYLAW, AND THE COMMENTS MADE BY THE CHAIR OF THE BOARD, IT IS A REASONABLE INFERENCE THAT DESPITE THE MERC’S INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT, THE CHAIR BELIEVES THAT BOSTICA’S S-2 APPLICATION SHOULD BE AWARDED AND UMA’S SHOULD BE DENIED,” Romano wrote in capitalized text in his letter for emphasis.
The MERC had noted in its report that Uma company officials reported being told by Cogliano that a license had already been approved for 44 Broadway (the Bostica site) and that Uma would have to find another location. Cogliano has strongly denied that allegation, calling it “a cheap shot” by the town manager.
In his letter to selectmen, Romano detailed what he considers several inaccuracies, taking issue with specific comments Cogliano had made during the board’s Sept. 13 and 25 meetings. Here are the main comments that Romano focused on.
Cogliano, at Sept. 13 meeting: “One of the licenses that was granted, I think it’s the smallest lot, one of the top scores, the smallest lot on the highway, the only one that didn’t submit a site plan, a plan of the building at their initial meeting, there was a previous site plan for a rug store that they… someone brought up, had parking for 7 cars, certainly not the same that was presented on August 10th. Just amazing some of the stuff I have seen over the last 2 days, I am not happy with any of it.”
Romano’s rebuttal: Uma Flowers submitted the substantially equivalent plan to the MERC as to the Board with its S-2 permit application.
Cogliano, at Sept. 13 meeting: “Uma Flowers I think had 26 spots, we never asked them how many employees they were gonna have, I would imagine it’s probably going to be the same, 13 employees, that only leaves them with 13 parking spaces.”
Romano’s rebuttal: Uma’s proposal provides for 37 parking spaces, the equivalent of at least 108 parking spaces per hour.
Cogliano, at Sept. 25 meeting: “I toured Uma Flowers who you guys said was the number one applicant, and I didn’t see anything there that would lead me to believe that they are the number one. . . . They have the worst location. They have the worst store. The smallest store. We are trying to find location that would make money for Saugus, and eliminate problems in Saugus, and I don’t think that the Report addressed that.”
Romano’s rebuttal: “Uma was additionally disappointed to hear that the same Board member denigrated Uma’s Pepperell location and did not even mention the Lunenburg location to the rest of the Board and the Town Manager when attacking Uma’s Pepperell location.” Uma’s Pepperell and Lunenburg locations are further evidence supporting the conclusion that Uma should be awarded an S-2 permit for the development and operation of a recreational marijuana retail establishment in Saugus.
Cogliano, at Sept. 25 meeting: “Even the place that scored number one doesn’t have enough parking. They are going to get parking from the Army Barracks store next door. Smallest Place, smallest lot. They didn’t submit a site plan with the original application. There was one for a rug store that was submitted, that’s not the same parking, that’s not the same building layout, that was submitted in August of this year. . . .How did they score number one if they didn’t submit anything?”
Romano’s rebuttal: Uma submitted all required materials to the MERC in February of 2023, including the site plan. Uma submitted a virtually identical site plan to the MERC that it did as part of its S-2 application on materials. Uma’s parking is more than sufficient and greatly exceeds the requirements under the Bylaw. “This question from the Board member, ‘[h]ow did they score number one if they didn’t submit anything?’ implies that nothing was submitted. On the contrary, Uma’s application to the MERC was 218 pages. Uma submitted a complete MERC application in February of 2022. The assertion otherwise is simply untrue. Uma remains confused as to where such confusion came from.”
Cogliano, at Sept. 25 meeting: “We have one applicant who invested $40,000,000 in a grow facility in Lynn, and we have another applicant that invested $750,000 at a horrible location in Pepperell, and we picked the one in Pepperell because she has a retail experience. You gotta be kidding me. That’s the criteria for doing that? They have one store open?”
Romano’s rebuttal: One of the issues before the Board is retail marijuana experience, as the applications before the Board are to develop and operate Recreational Marijuana Retail Establishments in Saugus.