Highlands Residents Rip Pot Store Proposal in Lowell
LOWELL -- The only thing lacking from Wednesday’s community meeting about a proposed recreational marijuana dispensary were residents waving pitchforks set on fire.
About 35 concerned residents from Lowell’s Highlands neighborhood crowded into a small room, with others standing in the hallway, as they peppered representatives from Wellman Farm, Inc. with questions about traffic, parking and other concerns.
The proposed marijuana store is at one of the busiest intersections in the city, residents stressed during the spirited community outreach meeting in a building across the way on Stedman Street Wednesday afternoon.
The fired-up residents emphasized that the company from out of town has clearly not done its homework because a pot shop at the busy Stedman/Westford Street intersection is not realistic.
“The congestion is outrageous here,” said former Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfied. “This is ludicrous.”
In response to the negativity, Wellman Farm President Dominic Shelzi tried to assure residents that they’re proactively taking steps to limit traffic impacts -- that is, if they receive a license to operate at 1012 Westford St.
The business is committed to doing sales by appointment-only, he said. A dispensary that opened in Salem on Saturday has decided to go that route, which makes traffic less of an issue, limiting the number of people arriving at the facility.
As more dispensaries open up, traffic won’t be as much of a problem, Shelzi added. Traffic was a nightmare in the small town of Leicester after one of the first two shops statewide opened there in the days before Thanksgiving.
“We don’t think there will be a substantial impact on the local traffic pattern,” Shelzi, who grew up in Dracut and now lives in Rhode Island, told residents Wednesday.
He’s planning to demolish half of the 6,000-square-foot vacant building, resulting in 21 parking spots on site. They have made arrangements to rent 10 spaces across the street.
“That’s not gonna make it,” a resident interrupted.
In response, Shelzi said, “We think that it’s manageable.” Residents countered that manageable wasn’t acceptable.
The company is also considering parking spots at a site up on Stedman Street, and having a shuttle take patrons down to the facility like in Salem. Some residents pointed to the shuttle already in use for the methadone clinic nearby, and were leery of another shuttle going up and down the street.
A few residents said the busy intersection needs a traffic light. Today, there’s only a stop sign at the end of Stedman Street.
Shelzi said his company is prepared to participate with the city in putting up a traffic light there.
“We haven’t looked at the cost, but we may be able to bear the full cost of it,” he said. “We’re prepared to address those issues with the city in a responsible way.”
The city can have up to five recreational marijuana dispensaries. Seven entities are under consideration for four remaining licenses. Patriot Care Corp., located on Industrial Avenue East, could open as early as January.
City officials don’t anticipate extreme traffic issues as seen in Leicester, but they did recently ask each proposed business for additional information about traffic demand and mitigation plans.
City Councilor Dave Conway, who lives in Belvidere, attended the community meeting in the Highlands Wednesday. He ripped into the proposal during the meeting.
“It’s crazy,” Conway said. “I really think this is not the place to have this facility for so many different reasons.”
Highlands resident Ryan Underwood was in the minority at the meeting, speaking in support of the proposal. He argued that these dispensaries can help in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
“I’ve buried more friends than I’d like to count,” he said.
“We can be saving the lives of your child, or your cousin, or your nephew,” Underwood added at the meeting. “We have to be on the forefront.”
He admitted that traffic is not going to be perfect, but as more shops open, that congestion will lessen, he added.
Cities and towns home to recreational marijuana dispensaries receive 3 percent of the companies’ gross annual revenue. Wellman Farm would employ 30 to 40 people, with a majority at their cultivation site on Wellman Street near Lowe’s off the Lowell Connector.
“This (jobs) will be the most substantial community impact we’ll be providing to the community,” Shelzi said.
He added that they would make annual donations to the city to fund Narcan purchasing.
“The cornerstone of what we hope to do here in the city of Lowell is promote wellness,” Shelzi said.
The community outreach meeting was a public forum required by the Cannabis Control Commission’s state licensing regulations. Caulfield shredded the company for holding the meeting at 1 p.m. on a weekday. He said they should hold another one at 7 p.m.
“If you want a true feeling of the neighborhood about your proposal, then you have to have that meeting,” he said, adding it should be in a larger facility like the Elks or Mount Pleasant Country Club.
Shelzi said they’re willing to have a follow-up meeting. They didn’t anticipate this level of response from the neighborhood, he said. Only two residents appeared for their meeting for the cultivation facility.
Before having to leave the meeting early, Caulfield had one final message for his neighbors: “Get off the couch. Get away from the TV and the news, and be down at City Hall and fight for your neighborhood.”
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.