Cannabis, COVID, and community center in Hopewell Township

Hopewell Township Committee held its meeting Monday, March 1, and discussed the future of cannabis (marijuana) in the Township, COVID rates, affordable housing, community center plans, budget updates, and stormwater management regulations.

With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis (marijuana) in New Jersey, Township attorney Steve Goodell updated the Committee and public about what to expect for the future of legalization as well as the potential for cannabis-related businesses in Hopewell Township. The State is developing a regulatory commission to establish what products will be regulated and what kind of licences will be granted, as well as the number of licenses and requirements for granting them, explained Goodell. 

There are six categories of cannabis-related businesses: cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and delivery. Goodell explained that the Township has the right to decline to allow licensees to do businesses in the Township in five of those six categories — not delivery. Should the Township wish to opt out of any or five of these categories, it must do so by a set date. If the Township wants to encourage/permit businesses, it can opt-in setting the zoning and industry restrictions through a zoning process. If the Township opts in, it can tax cannabis-related businesses. 

The Committee intends to hold a Township meeting specifically devoted to cannabis, The deadline for the township to opt out of of allowing marijuana licenses is August 21. The meeting will be held prior to that deadline (edited for clarity 3/2 at 5:06pm)

Sixteen COVID-19 cases were reported in Hopewell Township last week. “Rates are slowing but it is too soon to relax our precautions,” said Township mayor, Julie Blake, who presented in the stead of health officer, Dawn Marling, who could not attend the meeting. 

Township residents 75 years of age or older who have not received their first vaccination are urged to call the Hopewell Township office as soon as possible to secure that opportunity. Health department contact number: (609) 737-0120.

Designs for a community center continue as the Township meets with local stakeholders for input, explained Mark Kataryniak, Township community development director / engineer / zoning officer. The first public meeting will be held within the next two months to discuss initial plans and designs.

“It is for the entire Hopewell Valley community,” said Committee member Kristin McLaughlin. “We’re excited about the progress that has been made and forward to hearing from everyone about the design of the building.”

Water was a hot topic of discussion at Monday’s meeting — both as it relates to affordable housing development as well as the newly established stormwater management rules.

Some residents have requested repeatedly that the Township conduct water studies to determine the effect of new construction projects on the existing water supply. Goodell teased out the reason why they would not — “not now” — by giving a long overview of the Township’s affordable housing litigation history and the process for any development that is built in New Jersey. Ultimately the reason for “not now” is two-fold: 1) the areas designated for development require that new water and sewer be provided to the site and that stormwater management be recharged to predevelopment water conditions, therefore the Township does not current need to engage in water studies – that process will take place later; and 2) the planning board will be reviewing developers’ environmental impact reports and have the opportunity, at that juncture, to secure a new study and hire experts. “[Developers] can be put through their proofs,” said Goodell.

In support of affordable housing and its spirit, deputy mayor Courtney Peters-Manning questioned the motivation of neighbors of the proposed development who have been asking for the water studies. She stated that it seems to her to be a “thinly veiled attempt to stop our affordable housing developments from being built.” But, she said that the Committee decisions that led to the planned developments were “unanimous and bi-partisan. It was carefully negotiated. It has been upheld by the courts as thoughtful and well-planned. It is done.”

The question now, she asked, is “Do we want to greet our new neighbors with pitchforks or open arms?” Peters-Manning gave the example of Brandon Farms as a neighborhood where sometimes people feel less welcome in this community. “What is said at these meetings matters and I hope my neighbors and residents of this beautiful community we share will welcome new neighbors with open arms instead of putting up roadblocks.”

Kataryniak briefed the Committee on New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) newly amended Stormwater Management Rules and its effect on new public and private sector developments in New Jersey. The changes emphasize green infrastructure. Public hearing is scheduled for April 19.

The Township will be holding a public hearing for the municipal budget on March 15 as the capital budget was passed, according to Julie Troutman, CFO and treasurer.

The Committee also recognized March as Women’s History Month by way of resolution. 

The next Committee meeting will be on Monday, March 15 at 5:30pm. Please check Hopewell Township’s website for agenda, date/time confirmation, and zoom link.

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