The Zoning Board of Appeal today approved marijuana shops proposed for what is now the Little Steve's pizza place on Boylston Street and the basement of the Cask 'n Flagon at Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street.
Both establishments would be closer than a half mile to another cannabis concern approved by the city, in what would be the two latest examples of how a half-mile buffer zone established by the City Council is effectively dead.
The issue first arose today in a hearing for Cypress Tree, which wants to put a three-story marijuana mart in the building now occupied by Little Steve's pizza place, about a third of a mile from another proposed establishment at 827 Boylston St.
Cypress Tree's attorney, Josh Zakim, retired as a city councilor in 2019 - after having helped draft and vote on the half-mile limit. Zakim, who has now also followed his predecessor on the council, Mike Ross, in taking on cannabis clients, however, said Cypress Tree's proposal met the "spirit" of the buffer ordinance, because that stretch of Boylston Street and the nearby Massachusetts Avenue are so dense and heavily trafficked - even during the pandemic - that it's doubtful anybody would ever consider it the sort of "cannabis district" city councilors like him back in the day were worried about.
In addition to this area, the board has also approved cannabis shops closer than a half mile in Maverick Square.
Besides the buffer-zone area, board members also expressed concern about crowding before and after games or other events at nearby Fenway Park. Board member Kosta Ligris said even when the Little Steve's was open, you commonly saw double parking in front of that block of restaurants - he allowed as how he himself had double parked to rush int JP Licks for some ice cream.
Cypress Tree said they would have security staff try to shoo double parkers away and that they would consider closing early on game nights if things got too congested there. Zakim said customers could easily get to the shop via multiple nearby subway and bus stops.
The mayor's office and the offices of City Councilor Kenzie Bok - who will be unable to follow Ross and Zakim as a cannabis lawyer because she does not have a J.D. - supported the proposal, as did at-large Councilor Julia Mejjia.
The board voted to approve the shop 6-1, with a requirement that Cypress Tree, which also has approval for shops in Natick and Newton, come back for a review in a year. Its proposal now goes to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission for review.
The board also voted in favor of a shop even closer to Fenway Park - like right across the street - in the basement of the Cask 'n Flagon, by a 5-2 vote.
The Red Sox said they still have some concerns about New Dia LLC's proposed marijuana store across the street, but said they were willing to work with the concern, and with the Cask, which would be the landlord - on them.
The mayor's office supported the proposal. Bok's office and the Fenway Community Development Corp. also supported it, in part because the owners are "equity" applicants who have agreed to give hiring preference to people who had been imprisoned during the war on drugs.
Board member Joe Ruggiero cast one of the two no votes. He said that given the number of vacant stores Boston now has, the basement of a bar room just isn't sitting right with me."