Friday, July 19, 2024

The building at 86 Kirkland St. in Cambridge is on its second cannabis shop proposal. (Image: Google)

The planned opening of a cannabis dispensary at 86 Kirkland St. has sparked backlash from neighbors.

They say the Wonderland Dispensary & Delivery would prove “extremely harmful to our neighborhood and change its fundamental residential character” in an online petition that has since drawn more than 300 signatures since going live June 3.

The proposal would be the second of its kind in six years: In 2019, Binoj Pradhan planned to open a cannabis dispensary at the same address, in a former laundromat, dry cleaner and tailor shop in Kirkland Village, a Mid-Cambridge neighborhood near the Somerville city line. An online petition circulated in protest and vocal objections by neighborhood residents led to the proposal being shot down.

Attempts to reach Pradhan for comment were unsuccessful.

When news of Wonderland reached them, neighbors thought they had another win coming to them: Cannabis retail stores are not permitted within 300 feet of schools, they’d heard, and the Tree House Academy Child Care is within that distance from 86 Kirkland St. “The proposal clearly violates the 300-foot minimum distance from any educational institution,” the child care’s Mara and Daniel Coelho said in a June 7 email about the petition.

The law, though, applies to schools with K-12 students. The child care serves infants and toddlers, and neighbors learned the law doesn’t apply.

Meeting had complications

Wonderland owner Steven DeMarco held a community meeting June 6 at The Foundry community building near Kendall Square that drew criticism from residents who considered it inaccessible and not conducive for discussion. Though a Zoom option was available for those who could not make it in person, connection issues made it difficult for users to participate or listen in.

Mara and Daniel Coelho attended by Zoom and were among the unhappy.

“We kept raising our hands during the meeting,” Daniel Coelho said. “They didn’t want to address us. We felt rejected.”

“We had two parents [from Tree House] that gave up because they couldn’t hear at all,” Mara Coelho said.

No impacts …

Recreational cannabis businesses arrived in the city after a statewide 2016 vote with an annual “impact fee” to make up for “expenses and impacts” the city would feel from introducing a new kind of business, including on law enforcement, inspectional and permitting services, administrative, educational and public health services and even on its roads, “in addition to potential unforeseen impacts.”

The fee was dropped in 2022 because there were no expenses or impacts to cite.

Still, Kirkland Village residents feel a cannabis business will bring problems to the area.

… but still “implications”

Neighbor Jaymin Upadhyay called the proposed dispensary “the most unnecessary and irresponsible thing.”

“This is a family-oriented neighborhood,” Upadhyay said. “I understand that cannabis is legal now, but that just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s not harmful. It doesn’t mean that it can’t have negative implications on young people or the neighborhood.”

Resident Michael Byrne had concerns about the increased traffic and safety risks from Wonderland opening, but pointed out that the proposed dispensary was merely a symptom of the larger traffic congestion that plagues the neighborhood.

“The City Council could really help the situation if they wanted to participate in some kind of traffic mitigation process,” Byrne said. “[Traffic] is already a problem. This is just one more straw on the camel’s back.”

Efforts to win neighbors over

DeMarco expressed disappointment over the negative reactions but said he hopes to continue engaging with residents and change their minds.

“We’re going to be doing another community meeting as close to the store as possible where everybody can physically come and raise their concerns and issues, and we’re going to hear them,” DeMarco said. The meeting is expected to take place by the last week of July.

“We’re going to do literally everything possible to make sure that we mitigate issues related to traffic and parking,” DeMarco said. “I don’t think we can make it worse.”

“I hope in the future, when we open and when we’re integrated into the community, we’re able to give back and be positively impacting the community,” he added. “Hopefully [the residents] can be won over.”