Short street, long process: With NETA’s monopoly of Fulton Avenue, Northampton eyes engineering study of 225-foot public way

  • Northampton patrolman Brent Dzialo, on a special detail paid for by New England Treatment Access, directs traffic from Fulton Avenue into the NETA cannabis dispensary on Wednesday. NETA has paid for the special detail since the beginning of recreational marijuana sales on Nov. 20, 2018, when traffic flow on the street was also changed to one way, from Pleasant Street toward Conz Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton patrolman Brent Dzialo, on a special detail paid for by New England Treatment Access, directs traffic from Fulton Avenue into the NETA cannabis dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. NETA has paid for the special detail since the beginning of recreational marijuana sales on November 20, 2018, when traffic flow on the street was also changed to one way, from Pleasant Street towards Conz Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton patrolman Brent Dzialo, on a special detail paid for by New England Treatment Access, directs traffic from Fulton Avenue into the NETA cannabis dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. NETA has paid for the special detail since the beginning of recreational marijuana sales on November 20, 2018, when traffic flow on the street was also changed to one way, from Pleasant Street towards Conz Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton patrolman Brent Dzialo, on a special detail paid for by New England Treatment Access, directs traffic from Fulton Avenue into the NETA cannabis dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. NETA has paid for the special detail since the beginning of recreational marijuana sales on November 20, 2018, when traffic flow on the street was also changed to one way, from Pleasant Street towards Conz Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton patrolman Brent Dzialo, on a special detail paid for by New England Treatment Access, directs traffic from Fulton Avenue into the NETA cannabis dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. NETA has paid for the special detail since the beginning of recreational marijuana sales on November 20, 2018, when traffic flow on the street was also changed to one way, from Pleasant Street towards Conz Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/13/2021 2:35:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Anyone pulling their car into the marijuana dispensary New England Treatment Access could be forgiven for mistaking the small street in front of the building for NETA’s personal driveway.

For nearly three years now, bright orange cones have blocked the street, known as Fulton Avenue, as an off-duty police officer directs traffic one way from Pleasant Street through to Conz Street. On a recent day, a NETA sign sat squarely in the middle of the road, letting customers know the store was “now open for full service.”

Measuring 225 feet, according to Google Maps, Fulton Avenue is hardly Northampton’s biggest or busiest road. It is a public way, not a private road, despite the fact that NETA is the only business with its main and only entrance located there. But since the cannabis retailer became the first in the state to open for adult-use customers in November 2018, the street has effectively belonged to NETA.

That may soon change, however. Mayor David Narkewicz said last week that after internal discussions in City Hall about Fulton Avenue and the surrounding area, he has asked the city’s Department of Public Works to begin a traffic study to determine what to do next with the street.

“The current plan is to actually do a formal engineering study of the street and look at the new traffic volumes on the street as a result of NETA,” he said. “I do think we should implement either a return to the normal traffic configuration or implement some kind of a more permanent fix.”

Narkewicz said the current situation on Fulton Street is not a requirement of a host-community agreement with NETA or any permitting process. Rather, he said, it is a reflection of NETA’s high volume of customer traffic on such a short avenue running between two particularly busy streets.

Leslie Laurie, NETA’s regional director for western Massachusetts, said public safety and traffic flow were the reasons why the one-way setup began. Although NETA is no longer the only cannabis retailer in the region, its Northampton shop continues to attract hundreds of customers daily because of its reputation, she said.

“What we’ve done is really followed the lead of the city,” Laurie said about Fulton Avenue.

When NETA first opened in 2018, it was one of the first two adult-use retailers opened in the state. Lines snaked out of the building and around the block as customers celebrated the new era of legalization in Massachusetts.

The situation has now changed as more businesses move through the state’s stringent licensing process. To date, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has approved licenses for 10 marijuana retailers in Northampton, according to the CCC’s open data portal. The city’s website shows it has signed host-community agreements with 14 adult-use retailers — a step companies must take before applying for their licenses.

Situated off I-91, though, NETA continues to enjoy a steady flow of traffic. In addition to the 33 parking spaces in its own lot, the company rents overflow spaces in the Gazette’s parking lot on Conz Street.

“NETA continues to have a very busy customer base, enough that they feel they want to have traffic detail, albeit not as large as previously,” Narkewicz said, noting that the company used to hire three officers at a time to direct traffic but has since reduced the traffic detail to one officer at a time. “It is something we’re taking a look at internally and hopefully to make some kind of a recommendation.”

Since NETA opened for adult consumption on Nov. 20, 2018, the Northampton Police Department has billed the company $1.74 million for police detail services, according to Police Chief Jody Kasper. The figure includes $1.58 million in officer pay, $158,291 in administrative fees that go into the city’s general fund and $2,040 for the department’s “cruiser fee.” An NPD officer’s hourly rate for outside details is $51, Kasper said.

Narkewicz said that any recommendation to change city ordinances — to permanently make Fulton Avenue one-way, for example — would go through the typical process, which includes a vote before the City Council.

“Duly noted that it has been going on for a significant period of time,” he said of the Fulton Avenue situation.

Laurie said that NETA has had conversations about traffic with city officials for the six years it has operated on Fulton Avenue, including the years prior to adult-use legalization when it was a medical dispensary.

“We’re happy to see what happens with the next steps the city is taking to investigate whether it makes sense for the street to be one way,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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