By Mark E. Vogler
Back in July, the town’s Marijuana Establishment Review Committee recommended just two companies from a field of seven that applied for consideration to open recreational pot establishments in Saugus. But the Board of Selectmen have scheduled a special meeting to hold public hearings for all seven of the businesses that are seeking a Special Permit (S-2).
“The report is thorough, and it gives us a basis of where we go from here,” Cogliano said in an interview following the release of the committee’s report.
“I intend to call in all seven applicants for the S-2 permits and do our own thorough investigation into each of the companies and their locations,” he said.
The hearings are scheduled to run at 15 minute intervals, beginning at 6 p.m. in the second floor auditorium at Saugus Town Hall.
Cogliano, who was involved in all of the community outreach meetings in which each business outlined their plans, expressed some concerns about the two establishments recommended by the review committee. “One of the things that jumps out at me in the recommendations is that they picked two locations north of Walnut Street, which doesn’t make much sense to me,” Cogliano said.
“It doesn’t seem very convenient to our residents,” he said.
After the hearings, selectmen are expected to vote on which of the seven businesses should get the S-2 permits to open up their businesses in Saugus. But the issuance of any permits will require a unanimous vote of the four selectmen who will be voting. S-2 permits require a four-fifths approval. Selectman Jeff Cicolini recused himself from participating in the hearings because of a potential conflict of interest – one of the seven companies is a client of his accounting firm.
Getting all four remaining selectmen’s votes poses a challenge, though, as Selectman Michael Serino has previously said that he would prefer to see a ballot question be put before Saugus voters. If Serino sticks to that position, the board won’t have the necessary votes to issue any S-2 permits. “Unfortunately, at this time, it would be illegal for me to discuss the recommendation report or the applicants before a public hearing is conducted,” Serino said when asked about his reaction to the review committee report.
The review committee used a point system in recommending the two establishments that members believe are best suited for doing business in Saugus:
- Uma Flowers, LLC, with a proposed location at 24 Broadway (Route 1 North) – the site of a former house that was torn down – was the unanimous selection of the seven-member committee, 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.
The site is considered ideal, as it is the farthest north on Route 1 near the Lynnfield line, and the farthest away from the Malden dispensary, which is already open and operating. The site abuts conservation land, is already zoned appropriately and does not pose residential or school issues.
- Sanctuary Medicinals, with a proposed location of 181 Broadway (Route 1 South), also received a favorable recommendation to be issued a special permit for zoning by selectmen to locate at the site of the former 99 Restaurant. The business received a total of 118 points out of a possible 140.
“The Respondent’s proposed location is advantageous, and its extensive cannabis experience and current vertical integration business model are significant benefits,” the committee concluded in its analysis.
“The Respondent appeared to be one of the strongest positioned to open, succeed, and provide minimal or manageable impact to the surrounding neighborhood,” it noted.
The committee concluded that the other five companies that responded to a Request for Information (RFI) earlier this year “did not meet the criteria necessary to earn a recommendation from the Review Committee at this time.”
Committee members included Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree, Police Chief Michael Ricciardelli, Fire Chief Michael Newbury, Director of Public Health John R. Fralick III, Procurement Director Michele Wendell. Vice Chair of the Saugus Planning Board Jeanette Meredith and Building Commissioner Michael LaVecchia. The Review Committee spent more than 65 hours as a group – totaling more than 455 individual hours that entailed reviewing RFIs, conducting research, meeting the Respondents, performing site visits and listening to presentations. The committee also created a Respondent Evaluation Rubric, which ranked the respondents on five key categories: their response, business model, impact, location and direct experience.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta lauded the review committee’s efforts in completing its review of the seven marijuana establishments. “This report is very thorough and informative,” Panetta said.
“I understand that the Committee spent many hours reading the thousands of pages of information that they received from these potential applicants. This was followed by individual presentations, much research, and site visits. The report is professionally written, and clearly outlines the pros and cons of each interested party,” she said.
Triple M Ventures finished third in the ranking, with 92 points. The committee expressed major concerns about the proposed dispensary site at 1393 Broadway, the current home of All Tune & Lube car repair services. The proposed site is not able to support enough parking for the proposed dispensary. There are concerns about access off of Route 1. The site also abuts a residential neighborhood and is located very close to the Saugus Middle-High School.
Conclusion: “The proposed location does not meet the Town’s zoning by-laws. In addition, the Respondent did not submit what was required in the RFI related to the planning, approvals, and time required to make the proposed premises at 1393 Broadway a viable site. However, the Review Committee found the Respondent’s retail cannabis business experience and operations were professional.”
Olde World Remedies finished fourth in the ranking with 35 points. The committee noted in its report that the proposed location at 173 Main St. – a current exotic car dealership – “presents several challenges.” The location is within view of the Saugus Middle-High School. Access to the site has a Main Street off ramp curb cut.
Conclusion: “The Review Committee has serious concerns about the Respondent’s proposed Saugus location and the challenges present during the Lynn site visit. “
Northeastcann finished fifth in the ranking with 32 points. The committee found the proposed site at 1529 Broadway, the current Avalon Motel, as “adequate.” But the committee was concerned about its proximity to existing cannabis retail businesses operating in Malden and Melrose. Access to the site is difficult, due to significant traffic congestion in the immediate area. In addition, the current and future development of Essex Landing has already added significant traffic and roadway layout challenges, according to the committee.
Conclusion: “The lack of an open retail cannabis business and verifiable cannabis retail experience are a concern to the Review Committee. In addition, the proposed location presents negative impact concerns and challenges.”
Bostica, LLC finished sixth in the ranking with 25 points. The proposed site at 44 Broadway, the site of the former Donatello Ristorante and Oye’s Restaurant, raised some concerns for the committee, particularly its close proximity to local residences.
Conclusion: “The Respondent has no retail operational cannabis business experience. While the Respondent has substantial investor financing in the Lynn grow/cultivation facility and it seems promising, the lack of a proven track record and specific details about how its retail cannabis business would operate is a concern to the Review Committee. The Respondent lacked adequate and/or no direct experience in the industry of Adult Use Marijuana Retail Establishment dispensaries.”
Broadway Cannabis finished last in the ranking with 0 points. Its proposed location at 1268 Broadway, the site of the former Out of Asia restaurant, presents significant challenges, according to the committee. The site is located close to residences and there are access issues. There are existing cannabis businesses already open and operating nearby in Malden and Melrose.
Conclusion: “The Respondent’s proposed location is not ideal, and the Response was missing key pieces of information. The proposal was non-responsive to parts of the RFI. The Review Committee has serious concerns about whether this Respondent could successfully complete the buildout necessary to open a dispensary. Furthermore, the Respondent has no experience operating an Adult Use Marijuana Retail Establishment. The Respondent lacked adequate and/or no direct experience in the industry of Adult Use Marijuana Retail Establishment dispensaries.”
Selectman Corinne Riley called the review committee report “a useful evaluation, particularly regarding location/site, economic viability, and experience of each respondent.”
“I also like that the report provides a scoring breakdown of criteria for each respondent,” Riley said. “One of the main reasons marijuana was approved in Saugus was the economic benefit to the town. I look forward to hearing from the respondents, about potential economic benefits at upcoming hearings, and I also look forward to hearing what the public has to say.”
The public is allowed to comment on each of the company presentations. Here are the hearing times scheduled for the Sept. 12 meeting to consider the S-2 permits:
Northeastcann – 6 p.m.
Broadway Cannabis – 6:15 p.m.
Bostica, LLC – 6:30 p.m.
Uma Flowers, LLC – 6:45 p.m.
Sanctuary Medicinals – 7 p.m.
Olde World Remedies – 7:15 p.m.
Triple M Ventures – 7:30 p.m.