Boston dispensary applications remain a point of conflict among residents

The Boston Cannabis Board unanimously voted Feb. 17 to grant a license to a Ember Gardens, a proposed Newbury Street dispensary. That decision followed a battle with local residents that remains on-going.

Newbury Street stores
The Boston Cannabis Board licensed proposed Newbury Street dispensary Ember Gardens Feb. 17, generating negative reactions from some residents. JACQUELYN O’BRIEN/ DFP FILE

“We will fight this tooth and nail, to the last man,” Alex Mancebo, a Back Bay resident, said during an October community meeting. “If the applicants want to endure that, we’re ready to do it. We live here.”

Ember Gardens Boston LLC was founded in 2017, and submitted an application Aug. 17, 2020 for a Retail Recreational Cannabis Dispensary License on 297 Newbury St.

CEO Shane Hyde gave presentations at two community meetings before going before the board. The second meeting on Oct. 13 included nearly an hour and a half of questions from residents — many of whom voiced strong opposition to the proposed dispensary.

“There are a number of burdens that are being asked of the residents here,” Mancebo said, “and frankly, we don’t want to do that.”

Residents said they took issue with the potential for crime in the back alley, noise from the dispensary’s alarm system and parking trouble, among others.

“In all honesty, I would see that this place is closed down if it [in] any way impacts my area,” said Patricia Brown, an orthodontist who practices in the Back Bay.

Brown then offered to coordinate an effort with Mancebo to “keep these people out of our neighborhood.”

Three months later, Ember Gardens went before the Cannabis Board.

Ember Gardens is a certified equity applicant, which gives it certain advantages in the proposal process.

“For every non-equity candidate, they’ll hear an equity candidate,” said Brian Keith, co-owner of Rooted in Roxbury, another Newbury Street equity applicant.

Ember Gardens was certified as an equity applicant by Boston Equity program manager Chayla White, and the proposed dispensary has been the subject of three BCB meetings this year.

White said during the Jan. 13 board meeting she certified Ember Gardens because of its partnership with 23-year-old Brighton resident Joseph Hoffman.

Hoffman met several of the equity qualifications, White said, one of which being that he is the son of someone who was arrested on marijuana charges.

White said Hoffman’s father was arrested multiple times for “possession to distribute a class D substance.”

“And marijuana is a class D substance,” White added.

White was reached but unavailable to comment.

“I grew up looking up to the famous stores on Newbury Street,” Hoffman said at the meeting. “Having the opportunity to partner with Shane, whom my family has known for a very long time, and his company, has been a life-altering opportunity.”

Hoffman himself owns 51 percent of Ember Gardens, according to White.

Later in the meeting, BCB Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce brought up a lack of Hoffman’s presence at the community meetings, as well as Hyde’s plan to ease Hoffman into a managerial position — adding she was worried he would not be getting his “fair share.”

“I want to know how that makes sense to you,” Joyce said, “how you’re not even going to be a manager yet, but you’re supposed to be getting 51 percent of the profits after everyone else gets paid.”

Hoffman hesitated for a moment.

“I can talk that over with my team, and I can get back to you on that,” he said.

Joyce responded that moments of the testimony “raised flags.”

“I would hate to find that they used you to get their equity certification, but you’re not getting your fair share of the profits,” she said.

Ember Gardens declined to comment.

Many residents came to the defense of Ember Gardens during the meeting, though most said they were from Brighton.

“The security concerns mentioned today, to me, totally ignore the reality of what goes on around other dispensaries in the city,” said Daniel Brownwood, a Newbury Street resident. “It seems like they have never been to NETA in Brookline for example.”

NETA opened a dispensary in Brookline several years ago, and currently operates a low-key storefront with only its logo to signify its status as a cannabis dispensary. NETA Brookline also has live security personnel, according to the company’s website.

However, outside of NETA sits a sign marking the store’s private parking spaces. Additionally, NETA occupies a small parking lot across the street.

NETA Brookline sits next to Little Children Schoolhouse, a daycare and preschool. Residents raised concerns about a dispensary being close to a school at a community meeting Thursday for Natural Oasis, a proposed dispensary in Brighton.

Ellen Chajes, a Brighton resident, listed several schools within a ten minute walk of its proposed location at 345 Washington St.

“And the most important one is Shaloh House, because that is barely over 500 feet away,” she said.

The BCB requires proposed cannabis dispensaries to be at least 500 feet away from any K-12 schools.

John Jenkins, president and CEO of Natural Oasis, said the location abided by BCB regulations.

“We just adhere to what the requirements of the City of Boston are,” Jenkins said. “The requirements of the City of Boston says 500 feet. They didn’t say approximately 500 feet.”

The past few months saw an influx in BCB hearings for proposed cannabis dispensaries. From January until August 2020, the BCB met four times. Since then, it has met 11 times.

At its Jan. 21 meeting, the BCB voted unanimously to defer its decision to grant Ember Gardens a Retail Recreational Cannabis Dispensary License, acknowledging concerns over the location and the issues raised by abutters.

Ember Gardens got its license Feb. 17.

Noting residents’ concerns, the BCB voted unanimously to grant it, moving the company one step closer to becoming a new neighbor on Newbury.

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