Next week, on Thursday, May 21, the owners of a proposed recreational cannabis retailer in Essex will host last of two state-mandated community outreach meetings required in order to set up shop. The public meeting will give BB Botanics an opportunity to share its final plans and field public questions about the dispensary and cultivation establishment planned for 242 John Wise Avenue.
The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., and will take place on conference call (as all public meetings have been since Massachusetts established its “sheltering in place” COVID-19 advisory in March). Residents can submit questions in advance to email@example.com. There will also be an opportunity for the public to ask questions during a dedicated Q&A period during the meeting.
BB Botanics hosted the first of these community outreach meetings last October. At the time, the idea of recreational marijuana sales in Essex was brand new, and the town had create from scratch all the regulatory pieces to this new puzzle of requirements by the state. Also, BB Botanics had announced its intention to site its operation at a totally different site, signing a Purchase and Sale agreement for a storefront on Eastern Avenue at Harlow Street near the Essex-Gloucester line. But the site proved challenging, with site issues related to abutting wetlands and sizing, neighbors in the Conomo Point area and a newly announced competing dispensary set to open up the street on Rte. 133 in Gloucester. In the end, the group settled on its current proposed location on the other end of Essex, at 242 John Wise Avenue near the Essex-Ipswich line.
For its part, town officials have had to put two major elements in place to accommodate the new reality. First, Essex had to establish a “Host Community Agreement” (HCA) required by the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission that spells out the “rules of engagement” between towns and their marijuana businesses. These agreements address zoning intentions, public safety guidelines, community convenience issues such as hours of operation and, finally, the HCAs offer hosting towns the chance to capture additional moneys from marijuana sales (up to three percent) to defray “community impact.” BB Botanics has said it expects to generate approximately $4.6 million per year, which means Essex can secure between $138,000 and $276,000 in funds from the dispensary.
Separately, Essex had to establish zoning for recreational cannabis dispensaries (not just BB Botanics, although the town is seeking to limit licenses to just one) that would augment existing zoning for medical marijuana businesses. This new zoning will be voted on at Town Meeting on June 15. The proposed zoning change was the topic of a public hearing last Monday at a joint meeting between the Essex Planning Board and the BOS (as well as several Community Host Agreement Committee members.)
At the forum, residents learned the zoning would clarify and tighten adult marijuana retail establishments. First, town licenses for these establishments will be limited to one. Also, there will be a required 2,500-foot setback from cannabis establishments and K-12 schools, family day care centers, playgrounds and childcare businesses and a 400-foot setback from any property on which the principal use is a residence. Town Administrator Brendan Zubricki explained that existing zoning language for medical marijuana businesses in Essex was “pretty rudimentary”.
Passage of the new zoning will require a two-thirds vote by residents.
As for BB Botanics and its final business and operating plan, residents can attend the virtual outreach meeting Thursday to learn more.