Hopewell Borough gets into the weeds of cannabis ordinance

On March 3, Hopewell Borough City Council continued its discussion about creating an ordinance that would allow cannabis businesses to operate in town. Portions of the streets of Mercer, Broad, and Somerset were identified as the most likely locations to be able to accommodate such an establishment.

At the last meeting, it was mentioned that the federal standard is to have no cannabis sales within 1,000 feet of a school. Including this limitation in the ordinance would greatly reduce the possibilities of where a cannabis business could operate.

Councilmember Ryan Kennedy asked: “The thousand feet, is that just guidance? Because that is the whole town. There are some places if we look at our zoning, I’m not entirely sure we have a service zone. Maybe that isn’t the best use for that land.”

Lisa Maddox, municipal law attorney, responded, “You don’t have to have a buffer zone at all. You don’t necessarily have to comply with the federal standard.”

Councilmember David Mackie said, “I don’t know if it makes any sense at all for a cultivating or manufacturing facility to need a buffer. A buffer between retail business and children, but the other uses, maybe we can see it again.”

Kennedy said:” Delivery sounds less [like] serving the residents and more serving the region.”

Mayor Paul Anzano said, “when you talk to people in the business, delivery services are almost invisible. You’re talking about vans or SUVs and not trucks. It isn’t an ugly truck yard that you might otherwise think it might be. It’s relatively clean and upscale and actually they would blend in better than what my first interpretation was.”

The question of how to select applicants that are a good fit for the Borough was raised. Unlike liquor licenses that are granted through a bidding process, guidelines for choosing a recipient for a cannabis license must be decided by each municipality.

Michelle Hovan, Borough Administrator, said: “We don’t know how they [the State] are going to allocate licenses by municipalities. Will it be limited like liquor licenses or open to anyone to have an opportunity? We don’t know how that will be managed or what that process will look like. We’re just looking at things to enter into the ordinance.”

Maddox responded: “There are a lot of ways that you can do this. Say you have two licenses, and you get twenty responses who are all quality; how do you decide which gets the license from the Borough? Those are real policy questions.”

Anzano said: “That you just mentioned about the State and their licenses, whether it be per capita or something else, is not a prohibition of moving forward. We could pivot on that. What I would like to suggest for the next meeting is that Lisa and Michelle, try to get a feel what like-situated, or surrounding communities that we could plug into an ordinance. If we keep waiting for crystal clear guidance, we’re never going to get anywhere. We would be better off putting a conservative baseline down for our policy so that we can have a public discussion.” 

Kennedy said: “I agree. The other suggestion I would make is that in other towns I have been involved with there was an awkward handoff to planners and they wished they would have been involved sooner.”

Anzano said that a lot of myths exist about cannabis businesses, and it was important to draft an ordinance so that Borough Council could call experts to testify at a public hearing. For example, he said, cannabis businesses do not produce an odor nuisance like many people believe. He added that It is important to educate the public and debunk the myths surrounding the businesses.

Anzano continued: “What I’m trying to do is get a draft ordinance that is sort of reasonable and get a better sense of what the community wants to see. I’m still not convinced that the 81% who voted to have a retail shop in the Borough. Only through a public discussion of a draft ordinance can we have a reasoned discussion.”

Michelle Hovan said, “We have collected ordinances from all over the place, so we have a good idea.”

“We’re doing what sort of everyone else is doing,” Anzano added.

The Borough has taken a conservative approach to cannabis sales by opting out and following the lead of other municipalities of similar population but is now ready to move forward with gauging public interest and approval of sales in the town.

Moving on in the agenda, Mackie spoke about changes to New Jersey’s law mandating the removal of lead and galvanized steel pipes, including ones installed on the residential side, within the next ten years. He said that some residents had received letters informing them that their residential pipes would need to be replaced. The Borough once used lead goosenecks as lead’s flexibility prevented breakage during cold months.

Mackie explained: “The Borough has been systematically removing them for years.”

Mackie said that David Misiolek, Department Director of Water and Sewage, had been very proactive in removing the lead goosenecks for the past thirty-five years during re-paving and construction projects. Many of the ones that remain can be replaced during the repaving of Broad Street in 2023. He said that lead levels in Hopewell Borough have never exceeded the allotted standards.

Councilmember Debra Stuhler said a flier would be mailed soon about recreational events for adults and children, and 23 will be planted on Earth Day to offset global warming. Kennedy said that planning is underway for the return of Cruise Night on May 6.

The Pedestrian, Bicycle and Safety Advisory Committee met again with another great turn-out of locals. The Open Space Committee met to discuss ways to connect the Lawrence Hopewell Trail to town.

The next meeting of Hopewell Borough Council is April 7.

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