By Christopher Roberson
The City Council recently approved the Special Permit applications for the Wellness Connection and Phytotherapy to operate medical marijuana dispensaries on Route 1 North.
The Wellness Connection will be located at 0 Newbury St. while Phytotherapy will be approximately 1,000 feet away at 25 Newbury St.
Representing the Wellness Connection, Civil Engineer Richard Salvo of the Engineering Alliance said the dispensary will be 4,977 square feet and will occupy 5.4 percent of the two-acre site. “This is quite a large parcel of land,” he said during the council’s June 28 meeting.
Salvo also said the building will be set back 275 feet from Route 1 and will be accessible using a 60-foot private way.
Robert Woodland, director of Transportation Planning and Traffic Engineering for the Woodland Design Group, predicated that the traffic volume will be similar to that at the Wellness Connection’s location in Portland, Maine, which opened in 2012. Woodland said he expects the Peabody location will service “31-33” patients per hour with one car entering or exiting the site every two minutes. He also said the length of patient visits are estimated to be “eight to 12” minutes.
However, Councillor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin said the Route 1 site could be much busier than the company’s Portland location. “You and I disagree with the amount of business it’s going to do,” she told Woodland.
Security Officer Guy Glodis said the site will be monitored using an infrared detection system and closed circuit television, which will be directly linked to the Police Department. He said that in addition to requiring identification cards, biometric fingerprinting will be used. Glodis also said the company’s security division is staffed by a number of former police officers.
Resident Russell Donovan raised concerns about the Wellness Connection requesting a sign variance since the building will be so far back from Route 1. However, Glodis said that would not be an issue, as the state does not allow signage for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Another resident said he does not agree with having dispensaries on Route 1, saying they will only add to the traffic congestion. “You’ve got to be going 35-40 miles per hour when you pull out on Route 1,” he said. “We’re going to kill ourselves if we put it on Route 1.”
The hours of operation for the Wellness Connection will be Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Regarding Phytotherapy, Christopher Sparages of engineering firm Williams & Sparages, said the dispensary will be 2,424 square feet and will sit on a 60,000-square-foot parcel, which is currently occupied by Brothers Kouzina. Sparages said the site also has 300 feet of frontage on Route 1.
Like the Wellness Connection, Phytotherapy will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Although the council voted 10-1 to issue the Special Permit, the council had not received a traffic study prior to the meeting. In addition, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Pritesh Kumar, was not in attendance.
Ward 6 Councillor Mark O’Neill voted against issuing a Special Permit for Phytotherapy. During a follow-up interview, he said approving one dispensary would have been a better course, adding that unlike Phytotherapy, the Wellness Connection has years of experience on its side. “My vote speaks for itself,” said O’Neill.
Councillor-at-Large David Gravel said Phytotherapy still has a long road ahead. “They’ve got a lot of work to do before they even commence operations,” he said. “There’s a lot of distance between here and there; they don’t even have a full-time payroll right now.”
The council had many more questions for the Wellness Connection than for Phytotherapy. Gravel said the amount of detail that was presented by the Wellness Connection “drove a lot of questions.” In contrast, he said, Phytotherapy had already answered many questions by submitting an extensive written narrative.
With Phytotherapy being the newer company, Gravel said he is “relying heavily” on Kumar to make the right choices going forward.
Councillor-at-Large Ryan Melville said that in order to reach this point, each company needed the state’s approval. Therefore, questioning the state’s decision would have spelled legal trouble. “We would be going down a very difficult legal path,” he said.
Melville also did not see a problem with the two dispensaries being 1,000 feet apart. “At the end of the day, I think competition is a good thing,” he said.
New Public Services Director
In other news, the council voted 10-1 to approve the recommendation from Mayor Edward Bettencourt to hire Robert Labossiere as the city’s new director of the Department of Public Services.
In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Labossiere has been the director of the Department of Public Works in Middleton since 2005. Prior to taking that position, he worked in similar capacities for the communities of Hudson, Concord and Haverhill.
Manning-Martin cast the lone dissenting vote; she questioned Labossiere’s ability to provide adequate services to Peabody’s 52,987 residents. “I am concerned about you being able to handle it,” she said.
In comparison, Middleton’s population is much smaller with 9,861 residents.
Yet, Labossiere still felt differently. “I’m not concerned with the size of the city,” he said, adding that he has extensive experience with matters relating to water treatment, inflow and infiltration as well as sewer.