Zoning highs

Today, I went to the Somerville Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. I went because there were two different applicants seeking special permits to open medical marijuana dispensaries. The applicants are not only across the street from each other, they’re both in stone’s throw from my house. In fact, I can see one storefront from my bedroom window. Consider my interest piqued.

There was a large turnout and the elephant in the room did not go unstated. Last year, Massachusetts voters also approved recreational marijuana. So aren’t these medical dispensaries just loss leaders until they’re able to open recreational retail dispensaries? Surely that would be bad for the neighborhood – and for real estate values.

Here’s the thing:  I  went looking for empirical research on real estate value nearby dispensaries. The only study I could find was this one, on medical dispensaries that converted to retail dispensaries when that became possible in Denver, Colorado. The conclusion? “We find that after the law went into effect, single family residences close to a retail conversion increased in value by approximately 9% relative to houses that are located slightly farther away.” Okay, now I’m listening.

What’s more, the city’s planning department was adamant in stating that the zoning overlay they put in place was specifically for medical uses and that if and when the state legislature gets its act in gear on retail marijuana (don’t hold your breath, pun intended), Somerville would conduct a new and more rigorous process to develop new zoning for retail dispensaries. So it would be no slam dunk for medical dispensaries to convert. Encouraging, though to be fair, the citizens in the room was doubtful on that point.

However, I also got the impression that both facilities were distinctly oriented toward medical uses. They really weren’t designed as trojan horses.

In any case, the Board decided to continue the cases until the next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting; they had a quorum present but wanted to make sure that all board members could question the applicants and also to provide more time for the public input. I said my peace at this meeting, but as I reflect more on what I heard, I might have more to say. So, to be continued…


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