AUGUSTA — After his application to open a medical marijuana shop on State Street in Augusta was denied, a Waterville businessman has told city councilors the denial was based on lies and irrelevant concerns about a former bar he once owned.

The city’s Licensing Board, made up of the city clerk, police chief and director of code enforcement, denied Frank Berenyi’s application last week to open Marijuanaville, which he had proposed to open at the former Subway location at 289 State St.

It was the first time the board has denied an application, citing concerns about Berenyi’s moral character and what they said was a past lack of adhering to the city’s building code requirements with other properties or businesses he has owned in Augusta, including a bar, Shenanigans.

The city’s code enforcement director said Berenyi failed to maintain to city code standards a building on Bridge Street, where there was allegedly an illegal marijuana growing operation. The building has since been acquired by the city for nonpayment of taxes and torn down.

Police Chief Kevin Lully said the former Shenanigans bar at 349 Water St., which Berenyi owned for about eight years, drew 350 calls for police to respond in that time, more than similar businesses and a major factor in leading him to have concerns about Berenyi’s moral character to run a business, which is part of the city’s review standards for medical marijuana licenses.

“Our concern is a moral ability to maintain a safe establishment,” Lully said.


In a fiery defense, Berenyi said the objections city staff members cited in denying his application “are just lies and slander.”

“It’s not even remotely true,” he said.

Berenyi said the building with code violations, at 36 Bridge St., had been taken over in 2020 by squatting vagrants whom he could not remove due to an eviction moratorium related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and those squatters trashed the building and stole items he had stored there.

Berenyi said in 2020, when city code officers alleged the building was the site of an illegal marijuana growing operation, the building did not even have electricity, making it impossible for it to have been a grow site.

He said previously that as a medical marijuana caregiver, he had grown marijuana there, but stopped after he was told — incorrectly, he said — by city officials that he could not grow marijuana at the property.

Berenyi and his lawyer, Brian Condon, said Berenyi has three other cannabis businesses in Maine, and three others about to open. He has not had a single violation at any of them, they said, and has been welcomed in the other Maine communities where he does business.


They said city staff members should have checked with officials in those municipalities when determining if Berenyi should be trusted to run such a business in Augusta.

Condon noted that in the eight years his client ran Shenanigans, Berenyi was never cited for violations. By the nature of that business, he said, bars generally draw a number of police responses, more than other businesses. Condon also said bars are much different businesses than medical marijuana shops.

Following more than two hours of back-and-forth testimony at their meeting last Thursday, city councilors voted 5-4 to remand the application back to the city’s Licensing Board for further review of the application and the objections to it. Mayor Mark O’Brien voted to break an initial 4-4 tie.

At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen said she believes City Clerk Kelly Gooldrup was correct in denying the application, after receiving objections to it from Lully and Robert Overton, director of code enforcement.

Gary-Allen also said she hopes city staff members will consider reaching out to municipal officials where Berenyi has established cannabis businesses to see if there have been problems or citations involving his businesses.

The license approval process begins with a review of the application and background checks by city staff members. The police chief and director of code enforcement weigh in with any objections they might have, and, if they have objections, the clerk is expected to deny the application, with that decision appealable to the City Council.

Cameron Ferrante, a lawyer for the city, said city councilors’ options for dealing with the denial included rejecting it and granting the license, confirming the denial and rejecting the appeal, approving the application with conditions or remanding the matter back to the Licensing Board.

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