Zoning Board snuffs pot shop proposal

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photo. Gloucester's Zoning Board of Appeals refused to grant variances that would have allowed a marijuana dispensary to open at 88 Bass Ave., now home to Serendipity's Playhouse.

A city board has shot down a bid by a local corporation that would have cleared the way for a retail marijuana dispensary on Bass Avenue.

The Zoning Board of Appeals rejected by unanimous 5-0 votes all three variance requests from Gloucester-based KTBGM LLC on Thursday night. If approved, the variances could have led to a pot shop eventually opening at 88 Bass Ave. The site now houses Serendipity’s Playhouse, an indoor children’s playground run by John Linquata, in what had previously been the Tessera Tile and Stone building.

KTBGM — managed by residents Anthony and Mary Testaverde and Gina Fennessy, state documents show — had sought relief from the zoning ordinance’s rear setback and lot width requirements. The shop would have been run by a small company called Hooligan’s LLC out of the town of Manchester and headed by Mark Guinane. 

The zoning board heard from more than 30 residents opposed to the proposal when it met Thursday at City Hall, ZBA Chairman David Gardner said. The board then turned thumbs down on any variances to the city’s new pot zoning ordinance, which was approved by the City Council last year but was being applied for the first time.  

“It is a new ordinance, and the city has designated a number of other places that would meet the terms of the zoning,” Gardner said. James Destino, the city’s chief of administration, has said the city has 48 sites that meet the rules spelled out in the ordinance. Beyond the space and setback provisions, city regulations also bar any marijuana facilities from opening within 500 feet of a K-12 school, and limit the city to three retail marijuana outlets for either medicinal or recreational sales.

Attorney Deborah Eliason, representing Guinane and the Hooligan’s proposal, argued that the ordinance creates a “hardship” for anyone seeking to open a marijuana business by dramatically limiting the number of potential sites.

“The argument was that (the city’s ordinance) creates a situation where there are so very few — if hardly any — available opportunities for that use that it does make a hardship,” she said Friday, “and I am not aware that the city has any specific list.”

She said she is not sure whether Guinane will seek out another Gloucester location.

“My sense is that he will consider this and then consider his next step,” she said. Any pot shop application would also need the approval of the City Council, but the ZBA’s rejection of the variances stops the Bass Avenue proposal from going forward.

Other proposals

The Bass Avenue property had been one of at least three sites being considered for retail marijuana shops within the city, where the ordinance allows for just three retail outlets.

Happy Valley Ventures, which owns two sites within Blackburn Industrial Park, is advancing plans to open both medical and recreational pots sales facilities and a cultivation center there.

A company called Fresh Fields — an affiliate of the Energy North-Gloucester corporation headed by CEO Jeff Black that runs the Mobil station on Essex Avenue — remains in talks with the city over a potential recreational pot retail shop there.

A California-based company called Ocean Breeze has filed an application for a cultivation and pot product manufacturing site in the former Gloucester Engineering building, but cultivation sites are not governed by the three-shop rule that confronts the retail applicants.

Ward 4 Councilor Val Gilman, who chairs the City Council’s Planning and Development Subcommittee that helped design Gloucester’s pot zoning guidelines, hailed the ZBA’s decision to reject the early bid for variances.

“I thought they showed respect for all the work that was done (on the ordinance),” she said. “I thought they were very thoughtful and really followed the ordinance and its intent. And that’s important.”

Traffic a concern

Scott Memhard, the Ward 1 councilor who represents the portion of Bass Avenue that includes the KTBMG property, said, he too was glad to see the board stand by the city’s pot regulations.

“I don’t think this should be viewed as a stand against marijuana businesses,” Memhard said. “But I thought (the ZBA) did a good job respecting that a pot shop is a particular type of business, And the fact that there was no real hardship with the other locations available.

“The nature of there being so many children in the area, and the traffic in the neighborhood over the summer, has to be clearly a factor,” Memhard added. “With the (Good Harbor) beach, Bass Avenue is a very congested area, so for them not to have the lot size is, to me, a real issue.”

Gardner agreed that traffic concerns were a big part of the board’s consideration, and noted that the “appropriateness” of marijuana sales within the city did not factor into the board’s decision.

“To us, this was a zoning issue,” he said, adding that he also did not see the votes as precedent for other marijuana shops or other businesses needing variances in the future.

“The fact is, we try to be fair, and I think of every case that comes before the board stands on its own merits,” Gardner said. “In this case, as we saw it, (the applicants) just did not meet the criteria for us to grant a variance. That was it.”

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.