CAMH Mulls Proposed Dispensary on Tremont St.

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

At its monthly meeting in April, the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) listened to a presentation proposing the introduction of a dispensary at the former Punjab Mini Mart site at 1576 Tremont Street. A team led by Aditya Soni, the son of Rakesh Soni, who owned Punjab Mini Mart, is proposing the dispensary, Soni DOT. “Punjab Mini Mart has had its fair share of difficulties in the past, and I am committed to changing the property to make sure that we operate clean, efficiently, and reliably,” said Soni. “This is a new business at this location. This is not Punjab Mini Mart, and it never will be. My father, he’s happily retired, and I am proud to say that I’m the new owner at 1576 Tremont,” he added. An October 2023 report from WCVB revealing that Punjab Mini Mart failed a second health inspection in a week included a link to inspection records on the city’s website, indicating the establishment had its permit to operate temporarily suspended multiple times between 2022 and 2023. Some of these inspection reports cite issues with rodents, the display of expired products, and more. As part of the proposal, Soni indicated plans exist to revitalize the retail space, remodel the interior and exterior, and improve the sidewalk. “You also have my commitment to the neighborhood to be a good neighbor,” said Soni. In addition to himself, Soni has also brought in some experienced help to get his prospective business started with Michelle Foley. According to Soni, Foley has run five successful cannabis operations, two of which are in Boston, and described her as “One of the most experienced cannabis retail managers in the state of Massachusetts.” He also mentioned that Foley has a record with zero violations or deficiencies and said, “This is an unprecedented record of success in cannabis retail. ” Moreover, Soni indicated that the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has referred to her operations as the “gold standard” and that inspectors who work at the CCC train at facilities she has led. Further, the team Soni described at the meeting also includes his mother, Aditi Soni, as well as Jay Youmans and Jefferson Smith, both from the Bulfinch Strategies Group as consultants. In his presentation, Soni pointed out that the dispensary would mainly serve local residents. In response to concerns the team has heard regarding transportation and congestion, they will encourage the use of public transportation. There are also plans for designated parking spaces and time limits. There are also plans for professional security at the dispensary and 24/7 camera surveillance. A zero-tolerance policy is also slated to be employed for activities like littering, loitering, and the use of cannabis at the site, where violators would be refused service. In speaking about being a good neighbor, Soni committed to reducing the potential for lines to form. This reduction is slated to be enabled by passing out local business coupons for customers to use while they wait, online ordering, and more. In addition to everything mentioned above, Soni mentioned that his team is committed to providing the community with $25,000 per year for three years and proposes forming a local foundation to determine where that money goes. “We don’t want to be the ones to choose where that money goes,” said Soni. Soni also expressed commitment to hiring Mission Hill residents first. In terms of local reaction to the proposal, Soni displayed a slide in his presentation, which revealed 543 letters of support — 38 from Mission Hill businesses, 468 from community members, and 37 from direct abutters. Concerning zoning compliance, Soni said, “We’re also compliant with all siting and zoning requirements,” adding, “We conducted site surveys to ensure that Soni DOT would not be near any other cannabis dispensary or any schools.” After Soni outlined the rest of his presentation, which included renderings, floor plans, and more, attendees were given the opportunity to provide comments or ask questions. Eric Alden, a resident, commented on the former Punjab Mini Mart’s standards, saying, “Your family business has never had high standards; in fact, it’s been about the lowest standard as you could possibly be in this neighborhood.” Alden cited the mini mart’s previous violations, issues with rodents, and more before adding that he had concerns about the ownership. “The ownership has shown us for 20 years that they have no respect for this neighborhood, they have no regard for this neighborhood, they don’t care about their neighbors, they don’t care about this property,” said Alden. Alden went on to speak about violations at other properties in Mission Hill that have the same ownership before Soni attempted to stop him. “I’m here to talk about our proposal. We could sit down with my father a different time and discuss all the other properties, but I’m not really involved with any of that business, and I can’t really give you answers on that,” said Soni. In response, Alden thought the discussion about the other properties was relevant since they are part of the same ownership team and said, “Your ownership team has only taken from this neighborhood; they have never given back to this neighborhood; they’ve never been a good neighbor, and they’ve never had high standards.” Again, Soni responded and spoke about Foley’s track record and how she and he would be in charge of operations. He also reiterated that he does not have any affiliation with his father’s properties or past businesses and said, “I understand that it’s very easy to put it all toward ‘oh, it’s the family,’ but to be honest, I just graduated college, this is my first business.” “That’s why I went out; I got Michelle [Foley], I got Jay [Youmans] and Jefferson [Smith], I got the best team I possibly could because I believe that’s what the neighborhood deserves,” he added.  Another attendee, Adam Sarbaugh, mentioned during the time of the abutters meeting for the proposal that he had heard concerns from Mission Grammar School and opposition from direct neighbors and wanted to know what had transpired since that meeting. In response, Soni said there were plans to meet with the school, but it got pushed back, and another meeting had been set up. They are also working with the abutters. Youmans also emphasized that there are plans to meet with the school and reiterated the number of signatures in support from direct abutters and that they have reached out to the abutters with concerns. Maggie Cohn, another resident, asked a couple of questions, one of which was to whom the upstairs units in the building would be rented. Soni mentioned that his father owns the entire building, and he has “very little involvement” with the two floors above that are rented out. Cohn had also requested that the units not be rented out to students. Youmans called the request reasonable and said he would bring it back to the landlord and encourage them to make it a condition of their lease of the property. Later, Youmans also commented on the previous concerns associated with the management of Punjab Mini Mart. “I know that folks are kind of understandably giving a half-eye roll on the fact that, you know, okay, yeah, Aditya is in charge, but Rakesh still owns the property,” said Youmans. He later added that things cannot remain the same because “inspectors show up on a weekly basis. They’ll shut these guys down in two heartbeats if anything that comes even close to what you guys have described.” Foley’s role with the dispensary was also discussed. She was explicitly asked if she would put all her time into the facility when it opened. Foley responded, “I will not be the general manager on site, you know, seven days a week managing the dispensary.” However, she emphasized that she would be doing the hiring alongside Soni, all of the training, and more. Then, another attendee questioned Foley’s role because the presentation listed her as a Partner. Soni described Foley’s role and said, “She’s in charge of the operations until we’re up and running, and I feel that I can do it without her.” He also clarified that after some time had passed, he would be taking over day-to-day operations. There were also questions regarding the role of Soni’s father in the business. While Soni indicated, that his father is only on ownership as an investor — not a managing partner — a business filing for the LLC, shown during the meeting, lists the father as a manager. Youmans jumped in and called manager a deceptive term, saying, “In this instance, manager does not mean the way we think of manager, like oh who’s operating day to day. Manager, in this legal sense, means who manages the equity and has voting rights.” Later, Sarbaugh disagreed with Youmans, stating, “A manager on an LLC is clearly defined as what they have power over. If you want to be a member of an LLC, then you have no rights other than being a stockholder, so I think you’re disingenuous in the way you presented that.” As the meeting wrapped up, other attendees commented, and other topics, like product delivery, were discussed. Since this was the first presentation to CAMH, a vote was not held. The next CAMH meeting is scheduled for May 15.

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