City steers marijuana dispensaries toward Fresh Pond, NorthPoint ‘overlay districts’
Cambridge’s medical marijuana dispensaries will be either in the Fresh Pond area or NorthPoint in new “medical marijuana overlay districts,” according to zoning regulations being introduced at Monday’s meeting of the City Council.
The overlay districts are in red on the map above.
Because the state law voted in November allows for only one to five dispensaries in a county, “it is important to plan for them as regional service providers rather than typical retail establishments,” the proposal by the Community Development Department says. “The areas proposed are among those in Cambridge with the best access to both regional roadways and public transportation and the least impact on residential neighborhoods.”
The Fresh Pond area is served by Route 2 from the west, Route 16 from the north and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s Alewife stop on the red line. NorthPoint is bordered by Interstate 93 and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, which have access from Storrow Drive in Boston. The Lechmere green line stop is nearby and will eventually be moved across the highway to NorthPoint itself.
Business owners hoping to open and run a dispensary will have to do a traffic study, and even show that traffic from client, employees and deliveries “shall not create a substantial adverse impact on nearby residential uses.”
But the zoning also makes it clear that the presence of the pot dispensaries isn’t meant to be competitive. To open one, the owner will need a special permit from the Planning Board, members of which are to consider whether a proposed dispensary is “located to serve an area that currently does not have reasonable access to medical marijuana” – or whether the state Department of Public Health agrees an area needs more.
Dispensaries also have to be at least 500 feet from any place “children commonly congregate,” unless the board says children are “sufficiently buffered” in some way from pot sales.
The overlay districts are a combination of existing office, business and industrial zoning.
The path to pot
The path to opening a dispensary in Cambridge starts at the state level. The state got 181 applications – with the largest number, 47, filed for Cambridge’s Middlesex County. The list of those making it through the Phase 1 winnowing process that was released Monday still had 40 for Middlesex County alone, even though state law allows for only as many as 35 dispensaries in the entire state.
The two city applicants identified by the Cambridge Chronicle last month – Cynthia Crooks-Garcia’s Common Wellness at 150 Cambridge St.; and Joseph Skenderian’s Serenity Whole Health at 1613 Cambridge St. – have been approved to go on to Phase 2 of the approval process.
“It is expected that the Phase 2 application process will begin in October and will be completed in early 2014,” said Brian Murphy, assistant city manager for Community Development.
Meanwhile, with the council accepting the zoning petition Monday and referring it to the Planning Board and its own Ordinance Committee for public hearings, Oct. 22 could see the board holding a combined public hearing with the city Public Health Department. The next step, according to Murphy’s rough timetable, would be a Dec. 3 presentation of the department’s draft public health regulations for review and approval. Adoption of the zoning petition would follow.
The final possible date for adoption of the zoning being introduced is Jan. 20; if the regulations aren’t adopted, a moratorium on dispensaries would be put in place for another six months – pushing a city plan potentially to June 30.
The city had given itself a six-month moratorium from the time the state put out its own dispensary rules. The filing of the zoning, coming about 50 days before that moratorium’s expiration Nov. 20, keeps the marijuana issue easily off the list of the city’s recent missed deadlines.