Some Worry About Neighborhood Going to Pot in Lowell

December 17, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- Neighbors have aired their grievances about landfills and affordable housing projects at city and town meetings for years.

Now, those who consider themselves “Nimbys” -- Not in my backyard -- have a new target: Recreational marijuana dispensaries.

The latest example is at the corner of Westford and Stedman streets in Lowell’s Highlands neighborhood, where Wellman Farm, Inc. hopes to open a facility. Some residents nearby, including in Westview Condominiums across the street, are concerned about the store’s potential impact on the neighborhood.

“I’m a Nimby,” Dave McCabe, who lives in the condo building, said Sunday morning as he stood outside the proposed facility. “I just don’t want it in our area.”

He and others from his condo building are gearing up for Wellman Farm’s community outreach meeting on Wednesday, a public forum required by the Cannabis Control Commission’s state licensing regulations.

McCabe’s chief concern is traffic from the proposed marijuana shop, after he saw all the reports of issues with Leicester’s marijuana shop opening last month.

The corner of Westford and Stedman streets is already a busy intersection with only a stop sign at the end of Stedman Street. Traffic would be even heavier with a store right there, McCabe said.

He also said he’s worried about the parking situation at the proposed location, 1012 Westford St.

“I could see them parking in my actual parking lot over there,” McCabe said. “Then I could really say they’re in my backyard.”

Wellman Farm President Dominic Shelzi said his company and the city of Lowell are very focused on traffic.

As business owners, they have to meet with the Planning Board and present detailed traffic analysis for the location.

“We’re prepared to do that,” Shelzi said last week.

“We also will have sufficient parking, and would have police details if traffic became substantial,” he added.

The initial traffic concentration in the small town of Leicester -- with it formerly being the home to one of only two stores statewide -- is not expected when there are multiple stores in Lowell, Shelzi said.

City officials have also said they don’t anticipate extreme traffic issues as seen in Leicester. However, they’re not taking any chances and recently asked for additional information about traffic demand and mitigation plans for each proposed business.

Mayor Bill Samaras recently made a motion about traffic plans for stores as Patriot Care Corp., located on Industrial Avenue East, expects to open in January.

The city can have up to five recreational marijuana dispensaries. Seven entities are under consideration for the four remaining licenses.

“We’re being very deliberate about this,” said Eric Slagle, Lowell’s director of development services.

The Wellman Farm proposal would reconfigure the 6,000-square-foot vacant building at the busy intersection.

The company was formed for the purpose of applying for these licenses, said Shelzi, an attorney who manages a real estate business.

“It’s everybody’s first time,” he said about groups opening recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts.

Shelzi grew up in Dracut, and now lives in Rhode island. He said he encourages people to reach out with any concerns about his proposal.

“We look forward to input from community members,” Shelzi said.

He should anticipate some feedback from residents who live across the street at Westview Condominiums. A letter at the front door on Sunday encouraged residents to attend Wednesday’s community outreach meeting.

The trustees in the letter state that they oppose a pot store so close to them.

“Do you agree?” the letter reads. “We hope all the residents and owners will support us in this.”

McCabe emphasized that he’s also concerned about a methadone clinic a half-mile away, and a pickup/drop-off location for the clinic across the street from the proposed marijuana establishment.

“A pot store next to where they congregate could aggravate things a bit, having easy access to pot when they have a drug problem,” he said.

But Shelzi argues that it’s not inappropriate to place a recreational marijuana dispensary near a methadone clinic. They are consistent with one another, he emphasized.

“We are a health-related company, so we’re hoping to have a discussion on how we can positively impact the community on opioid addiction,” Shelzi said.

The community outreach meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday at 16 Stedman St., across the street from the proposed store.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.