HAVERHILL — After a lengthy City Council meeting punctuated by impassioned comments from both sides of the marijuana issue, the council approved the second special permit in a week to open a retail cannabis store in the city.
Caroline Pineau, a professional downtown businesswoman who has operated The Yoga Tree on Washington Street for 6 1/2 years, was granted a special permit to open her retail cannabis store at 124 Washington St., a historic building she owns and which formerly housed the Sons of Italy.
Council President John Michitson along with councilors Melinda Barrett, Thomas Sullivan, Colin LePage, Timothy Jordan, William Macek and Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien voted to approve the permit at Tuesday night's council meeting. Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua voted in opposition. Councilor Michael McGonagle, who has bowed out of voting for special permits for retail cannabis shops, citing a conflict of interest, was not present
"I'm thankful to the City Council for approving my special permit and I look forward to operating a professional and state-of-the-art cannabis dispensary in downtown Haverhill," she told The Eagle-Tribune following the meeting. "This is something I've been working on for 18 months and it was incredible to have such a tremendous showing from the community in support of my project."
Last week, the council granted the first special permit to Janet Kupris of Weymouth, CEO of Full Harvest Moonz. Kupris gained the council's approval to open a retail cannabis shop amid a cluster of restaurants on Plaistow Road, near the New Hampshire line.
A public hearing held Tuesday night saw a standing-room only crowd, including more than 30 of Pineau's yoga clients, several local business owners and the president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, all in support of Pineau's request, as well as several of Pineau's most vocal opponents.
Before opening the public hearing, council president John Michitson laid down some ground rules, noting anyone causing a disruption would be asked to leave.
He allowed a designated speaker for both camps, and allowed comments from five citizens on each side of the issue.
Pineau's lawyer, Thomas MacMillan of Bradford, told the council that Pineau met all of the conditions required for a special permit, including approvals from city departments, meeting zoning requirements and providing the city with a traffic study.
Several members of Haverhill's business community spoke in favor of Pineau's request, including Phil Rice of Rice & Broulliard Electric, who told the council he is a direct abutter to 124 Washington St. and that Pineau's proposed shop would not be a detriment to his tenants.
"When I see something of value, I want to defend it," he said. "I think it's a very positive thing and I'm all for it."
Dougan Sherwood, president and CEO of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said he was there to deliver a message of support for a "progressive and vibrant downtown."
"We believe strongly that our ability to grow our economy requires a healthy small business community, particularly in the downtown," he said. "Concerns around issues of parking and congestion have been considered and solutions have been offered that we believe will mitigate any long term problems."
Opponents of Pineau's request included attorney Scott Schlager, who is representing three local men who are suing the city to block marijuana shops from moving onto Washington Street in the heart of downtown. The suit says the city acted improperly when setting up the zoning that allows pot shops to move into the area.
A copy of the suit lists the plaintiffs as Bradford Brooks, a local realty professional, Lloyd Jennings, a local contractor, and Steve Dimakis of Mark's Deli.
City Solicitor William Cox said the plaintiffs are asking the state Land Court to rule on the validity of that zoning.
The suit specifically targets 124 Washington St., where Pineau plans to open her dispensary.
Brooks, Jennings and Dimakis spoke at Tuesday's public hearing in opposition to Pineau's request for a special permit.
"The applicant (Pineau) has engaged in a campaign of disinformation," Schlager told the council. "I'm here tonight to set the record straight."
Michitson warned him to stay clear of any legal matters.
Schlager claimed that Pineau "told our client that her store would only sell oils and lotions, a seemingly innocuous combination of goods, however, the applicant is selling edibles and other cannabis products, such as joints."
Jennings told the council that it removed "legal buffer zones" from the waterfront district, thereby allowing a cannabis store to locate in that area.
He said a cannabis store does not belong in a "mixed use building."
"We use buffers to protect our wetlands and we use buffers to protect our children," Jennings said. "When you remove all buffers to establish a zone to put a recreational marijuana store there, then you are removing all protection to our children."
After Michitson warned Jennings he was over his allotted time, Jennings walked away from the podium and muttered, "fixed."
Brooks told the council that he was opposed to a cannabis shop from opening in the downtown, and noted the many family activities that take place downtown, including River Ruckus and KidsFEST.
"You've just taken all of this hard work and effort to establish this watershed (waterfront) area and thrown it out the window," he said.