And then there were three.
Haverhill is getting a third retail marijuana shop — all of which received operating permits in the last month.
The City Council last week approved a special permit for the third shop, CNA Stores. It will be in a small business plaza at 558 River St. where two other non-marijuana businesses, Natural Stone Plus and Vaporlicious, also operate.
The council approved the permit after CNA agreed to a set of conditions intended to benefit the city and the neighborhood.
Robert DiFazio, a disabled U.S. Navy veteran from Amesbury, is opening the store. He said he also plans to open a retail pot shop in Amesbury, along with a cannabis cultivation and growing facility.
The Haverhill council recently approved special permits for two other pot shops. The permit for Full Harvest Moonz, which plans to open near the Plaistow line, was approved June 11. The permit for Haverhill Stem LLC, which plans to open at the former Sons of Italy hall at 124 Washington St. in the heart of downtown, was approved June 18.
Two other groups have applied for pot shop permits, according to City Clerk Linda Koutoulas. They are Mellow Fellows, which wants to open a shop at the former Seafood Etc. restaurant at 330 Amesbury Road; and Haverwell Market LLC, which proposes a shop at 399 Amesbury Road behind the Mobil gas station.
DiFazio said he is in business with his friend, Billy Haggard, who is also a Navy veteran and lives in Dallas. Haggard was unable to attend last week's council meeting due to a death in his family, DiFazio said.
DiFazio and Haggard served in the Navy as nuclear engineers on submarines and aircraft carriers, DiFazio said.
“We’re a service-disabled, veteran-led company that is looking to hire veterans in Haverhill,” he said. “We’re creating jobs for veterans.”
During the public hearing for the special permit, former Haverhill resident Melissa Cerasuolo, a member of the Haverhill High state champion girl basketball teams of the early 1990s, spoke out in favor of granting DiFazio a special permit, commending him for wanting to hire veterans to work at his business.
She also noted his plan to donate $25,000 to local charities, including $12,000 to Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill.
“I’ve seen the site and I think it’s spectacular and will be good for the city of Haverhill,” Cerasuolo said of the location DiFazio chose for his shop.
Five residents spoke against DiFazio’s location of a cannabis store in their neighborhood. They included Margin Street resident Lynn Wedge.
“This neighborhood has experienced high illegal drug activity, and even though that element has been removed, I see it every day ... people pulling up side by side and passing drugs,” she said.
Wedge noted concerns with parking along side streets in the area where DiFazio plans to open his shop, and how parked cars reduce visibility for residents pulling out onto River Street, the main street that passes by the small plaza.
“I just don’t think it’s the right spot,” she said.
Wedge’s concerns about drug dealing in the neighborhood, as well as a possible reduction in home values, were shared by other residents.
DiFazio and his security consultant, Michael Allen of Rochester, New Hampshire, outlined an extensive set of security precautions, including outdoor security personnel who would check every driver coming into the lot for the proper appointment paperwork, and indoor security guards. Only people 21 and older with proper identification and an appointment will be allowed in the pot shop, according to the security plan.
DiFazio said he plans to hire veterans and former law enforcement personnel for the security jobs, and plans to employ veterans for other jobs in the shop.
A “sophisticated” video surveillance system will be tied into the police dispatch center for around-the-clock monitoring of suspicious activity.
DiFazio said he plans to work closely with police to make the neighborhood safer and that his head of security will also serve as the neighborhood’s liaison.
“We developed a very comprehensive plan that in some cases goes above and beyond what is required,” Allen said.
DiFazio explained that deliveries by a small van will happen two or three times a week, and that the vans will pull into a bay and unload inside the building in a secure area. All products will arrive prepackaged and ready for sale, he said.
DiFazio’s traffic expert said the impact the shop will have is minimal, noting the daily traffic volume on that stretch of River Street ranges between 17,000 and 19,000 vehicles.
DiFazio intended to serve 20 customers per hour, but at the request of Councilor William Macek, he agreed to reduce that to 16 customers per hour, with the understanding that those numbers will be reviewed by a committee including police, fire officials and the city engineer.
To respond to neighbors’ concerns, DiFazio agreed to reduce his shop's operating hours on Mondays through Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., instead of closing at 8 p.m. on those days as originally proposed. The hours for Thursday through Saturday will remain at 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the Sunday hours will be from noon to 6 p.m.
At the request of City Councilor Melinda Barrett, DiFazio agreed to install outdoor security cameras pointed at Margin Street and Florence Avenue, where neighbors said drug transactions have been happening.
At the request of Barrett and Councilor Tim Jordan, DiFazio agreed to donate $22,000 per year, which school physician Dr. John Maddox will put toward the city’s annual youth risk survey, drug education or another effort Maddox deems important to the city’s young people.
Voting in favor of the special permit for DiFazio's shop were Macek, Barrett and Jordan as well as Colin LePage, Thomas Sullivan, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and council President John Michitson. Councilor Michael McGonagle did not take part in the hearing, citing a conflict of interest, while Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua voted against the special permit.