Group Seeks to Clear Air: No Special Treatment; Other Pot Shop, Condos Bid on Amesbury Road Site

Architect Matthew Juros displays rendering of Mellow Fellows shop during community outreach at the UMass Lowell iHub. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Mellow Fellows, one of two groups proposing a retail marijuana shop on Amesbury Road, says it received no special treatment and wasn’t the only one considering such a use for the property.

The three owners of Mellow Fellows, proposing to open in the former Seafood Etc., 330 Amesbury Road, are launching an online information campaign this week in advance of filing a special permit application. Vice President E. Philip Brown, released a statement saying another marijuana retailer and a condominium developer were already eyeing the restaurant site.

“There were only a couple zones left that were not claimed,” Brown says. “We had a difficult time finding landlords who could lease to us due to federal restrictions. Those restrictions also prevented us from obtaining a traditional commercial mortgage.”

How City Councilor Agreed to Landlord Role

Brown explains he and fellow Haverhill High School classmates Charles F. Emery and Timothy P. Riley looked for business locations elsewhere, but found most were already spoken for. Faced with no site, the group asked Emery’s brother-in-law, City Councilor Michael S. McGonagle, to buy the Amesbury Road property when it returned to the market. McGonagle and his sister, Kathy Darby already own several buildings through their Mac & D Realty. McGonagle has gone on to excuse himself from City Council discussions of marijuana-related matters.

In the end, Brown adds, “They offered to buy the building and lease it to us.” McGonagle and Darby found themselves in a bidding war against another proposed cannabis store and a developer planning “a large condo development on that site.” Mac & D Realty closed on the property for $605,000 on March 29, according to the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds.

Brown says McGonagle’s involvement did not provide any other benefit to the group. “Mike had no role in the planning and design of the cannabis zones. We are paying a market rate lease to Councilor McGonagle and Ms. Darby, and have all gone out of our way to be transparent and avoid the appearance of obtaining political favoritism.”

“Councilor McGonagle is an honorable citizen in this community. In addition to his five term in city government, he is a veteran, a member of the Korean War Memorial Committee—his uncle was killed in that war, a founder of the Veterans Alliance of Greater Haverhill and president of Rebuilding Together for five years,” Brown says.

As they had done during an April 4 community outreach meeting, they stress they are the only local applicants.

“The Massachusetts legislature intended that local residents, veterans and minorities be prioritized over corporations, especially in Economic Empowerment Zones such as Haverhill,” says Brown. State rules seek to enforce that provision with a limit of three retail stores that can be owned by any one business.

Brown, a semi-retired Haverhill High history teacher also explains how the partnership formed. He first approached Riley, who has 15 years of experience successfully operating a package store in a low-income neighborhood. Riley also has a background as a pharmacist tech and facilities manager for a large pharmaceutical company. Riley then pitched his brother-in-law, Emery, because of his background in sales, marketing and training.

In advance of the community outreach meeting, Brown says they invited residents from surrounding neighborhoods even though they were only required to notify neighbors adjacent to the property. “We did this because we thought it was the responsible thing to do given that these kinds of stores are new and are bound to generate controversy. We wanted people to hear our story and address their concerns to set them at ease,” he says.

Three other marijuana retailers have already scheduled special permit hearings before the City Council. They are Full Harvest Moonz, 101 Plaistow Road, tonight; Haverhill Stem, 124 Washington St., June 18; and CNA Stores, 558 River St., July 9.

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