An otherwise routine meeting of the Hopewell Borough Planning Board went on longer than usual Wednesday night. After officially changing the October, 2024 meeting to the 9th of that month and approving a resident’s application for a pool deck, the Board moved on to the agenda item likely responsible for the packed house: Evolve Sky Cannabis, LLC’s bid to convert 3800+ square feet of space at 57 Hamilton Avenue to a bustling retail operation, the Borough’s only such new storefront since it approved the applicant almost a year ago.
Several members of the Board recused themselves for conflict of interest before the Chair introduced the process to come. Only the Zoning Board members of the Planning Board continued with the meeting to discuss Evolve Sky.* They unanimously agreed that Evolve Sky’s application is fully complete, a critical step in the planning procedure. What followed was a baseball game-esque evening of the applicant sending four power hitters to the plate, fielding questions from the Board, then a couple of innings worth of public comments to wrap things up. In the end, the Board’s commitment to ending at 9:30 meant that no vote would take place, the issue being tabled to March’s meeting.
First up was David Collins, architect for the retail space, who discussed and answered questions about parking, lighting, security, product storage, and air movement. Collins deferred some queries to their respective experts but otherwise shared his plans so that all could see, including those who had signed on via Zoom. Next up, Tony Gallo, a 30-year retail security expert who discussed the proprietor’s plans to keep the product safe. Gallo frequently cited New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the powerful body behind the myriad rules and regulations necessary for retail establishments in the state. For example, State law dictates that a cannabis retailer must have video cameras operating at all times, including for at least eight hours through any power outages that may occur—an issue that came up several times given the Borough’s experience with electrical outages. Gallo also emphasized that Evolve Sky would be able to identify every single person who came in and out of their storefront, and would receive real-time inventory updates accounting for deliveries and purchases.
Third into the batter’s box was the operator of the store himself, Sajid Khan, who spoke about Hamilton and Somerset streets as the “ideal location” for his business, “being off the main road”. Khan noted several other details which would later become hot topics during the public comment, including business hours of between 8am and 10pm. Not only were residents concerned about foot and vehicle traffic into the night, but also expressed dismay at powerful security lights having to illuminate the property during said hours. Khan concluded his time reviewing the law, which prohibits “open flowers” of marijuana plants from being sold, as well as forbidding consumption of any product on premises.
In the clean-up spot for the applicant was Jim Kyle, planner at McManus & Associates, of Hopewell, whose straight-forward testimony consisted of a review of the site’s building plans and the type of permits being sought.
Although there were some comments made in support of the variances—and, thus, in support of the business being located there—most residents near 57 Hamilton who spoke at the meeting are opposed. Among the most common objections were concerns over a large bus stop on the corner and children’s safety in general, the residential character of the location, and the condition of the property. One resident noted that the building owner, listed as Gerald Freedman, et al, is already dealing with water contamination and other environmental issues. One board member asked about security cameras recording the comings and goings of neighbors without their consent. The response, like so many others, centered on regulations set forth by the State Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which are out of the hands of Khan and his company. Despite the company’s agents and their expert testimony, enough concerns remained that, when time was up, the Board concluded public comment and adjourned the meeting.
The next meeting of the Hopewell Borough Planning Board is scheduled for March 6 at 7pm.
Edited 2/15 at 11:13am to correct the first reference to the CRC.
*Edited 2/19 to correct the reference to the Board: Peter Macholdt, Chair of the Planning Board wrote to say:
I am the chairperson of the Hopewell Borough Planning Board and want to commend your writer for the article covering our February Planning Board meeting. That said, I’d like to offer a bit of clarification to the article.
The Hopewell Borough Planning Board sits as both a planning board and as a zoning board. The zoning board is a subset of the full planning board and consists of Class 4 planning board members only.
The hearing for Evolve Sky was a zoning hearing, so we sat as a zoning board. Planning Board members in Classes 1-3 (Kennedy/Walker/Mackie) are not members of the zoning board, and therefore did not recuse themselves from the discussion, they never sit for zoning discussions. We did have 1 zoning board member who recused herself.
I thought it important for you and your readers to understand the basic composition and functions of the Hopewell Borough Planning Board.
Thank you, Peter!!!