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Hopewell Borough news

by Angela Fee-Maimon

Retail cannabis lawsuit

The Hopewell Borough Council began their meeting a half hour early on April 6 to discuss an executive resolution about the litigation of Sourland Provisions, LLC v. Borough of Hopewell Borough Council.

Maggie Schmitt, Hopewell Borough administrator, confirmed that the lawsuit would not interfere with the progress of the applicant, Sky Evolve LLC, who won the bid to open a retail cannabis shop in Hopewell Borough.

According to public records, on February 28, Sourland Provisions LLC filed a lawsuit against the Borough of Hopewell claiming that “The Borough of Hopewell Borough Council did not follow the proper procedures of the LPCL [Local Public Contracts Laws] in the administration and award of the Cannabis Licenses. The Cannabis Licenses should be denied as issued in violation of the Local Public Contracts Law, and the Borough Council should re conduct the process of awarding the Cannabis Licenses in full compliance with the Local Public Contracts Law.”

As previously reported, the Borough said that Sourland Provisions LLC submitted its applications late and incomplete, and therefore the application could not be considered for the cannabis retail license. Two other applications were reviewed using a ratings scale created by the Hopewell Borough Council, and the endorsement was awarded to Sky Evolve LLC

In response, on April 14, tHopewell Borough filed a motion to dismiss the complaint because the suit is not valid. The lawsuit was also filed after a 45-day time deadline on filing, and because “Plaintiff’s claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”

“The Borough neither evaluated or scored Plaintiff’s application for local support because it was submitted after the published deadline and failed to include all required materials. Plaintiff now seeks an Order overturning Resolution 2023-27 so it can have a second bite at the apple. Plaintiff is again out of time, filing its Complaint beyond R. 4:69’s 45-day time limit.”

The motion to dismiss states that the lawsuit alleges that the Borough failed to comply with LPCL when New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, and not the LPCL, governs cannabis laws. Secondly, the lawsuit alleges that the use of the word “competitive,” that the Borough intended to use the “competitive contracting” of LPCL, but “this claim….violates the plain language” of the cannabis ordinance. Lastly, the plaintiff’s suit “includes factual assertions” that are either “legally irrelevant” or “fail to support plaintiff’s claim.”

The motion to dismiss the claim is set to be decided on May 12. On April 24, a substitution of counsel was filed by Sourland Provisions LLC, changing the counsel from Alison Reynolds, Esq., of Kumer & Hopper Law, LLP to Mollie Hartman Lustig, Esq. and John D. Williams, Esq.

Water and Sewer Fee

Once the Council meeting opened to the public, the Council discussed a decision to add a quarterly $20 flat rate fee to the water and sewage bill at each residence. The amount of water usage varies depending on the amount of rainfall in the area, which made setting a revenue budget challenging without the addition of the flat rate.

According to Councilmember David Mackie, the federal government is planning on reducing the acceptable amount of PFAS levels per million to 4. Currently, the acceptable level in New Jersey is 13, which is the number at which the Hopewell Borough water has tested recently. The Borough has been debating whether to build additional wells or to sell the utility to a larger utility company that would service the Borough. Currently, the Borough has been purchasing a large amount of water from New Jersey American Water at a rate that exceeds a bulk rate price.

According to Mackie, each well would need to be treated individually for contaminants like PFAS, which would make the well systems too expensive to maintain. The flat rate will also stabilize the value of the utility for future sale.

Councilmember Krista Weaver said that it would be a good time to open up a conversation with the public about rain barrels or buckets and conservation, and Councilmember Debra Stuhler agreed.

PBSA’s recommendations received by County

Representatives from Hopewell Borough and the Pedestrian Bicycle and Safety Advisory Committee (PBSAC) met with engineers from Mercer County where upgrades to safety on County roads that run through Hopewell Borough were discussed. The County was very receptive to the recommended road changes.

The County suggested installing three rotaries or small roundabouts at busy intersections on Broad Street, the first of which could be installed as early as 2024.

Brad Evans, Chair of PBSAC, said that the committee was pleased with the offer of roundabouts. It was something the committee had not asked for because of the cost, but is a superior way to calm traffic. Evans asked that the Council consider repainting the crosswalks near the elementary school as they had faded significantly during the winter.

Hopewell Train Station

A hearing for prequalification for renovations at the Hopewell Train Stations had to be voted on again, because the notice was not printed in one of the two newspapers it was sent to as a requirement.

Public Comment

Jon McConaughy, owner of Doublebrook Farm, spoke when the meeting opened for public comment. He said that only 2% of the revenue at Brick Farm Market is generated by Borough residents, so the 10,000 cars that drive through town each day are very important to local business owners. He said that business owners should have a say in how traffic is managed in the Borough.

McConaughy said that he had attended a meeting about the $2.5 million that the State of New Jersey has allocated to agribusiness. He said that representatives from economic committees from Princeton, Somerville, and Flemington were in attendance.

Weaver asked McConaughy, “have you considered joining the [Borough’s] Economic Development Committee?”

McConaughy responded that he would if it was brought into planning board decisions in the same way that the historical committee was utilized. He asked how to create a business advisory committee that would help get Hopewell recognized for the gem that it is, and could keep a directory of local businesses and citizens.

Councilmember Ryan Kennedy said that Lawrence had both a government committee and a non-profit called Lawrence Mainstreet. He said the most successful way to operate is to have one entity that is a government committee to handle the government side, and a non-profit committee that is not stuck by government rules.

Committee liaison reports

Finally, the council members gave their liaison reports. Weaver encouraged people to visit the Stoutsburg African American Museum after meeting with a representative there. She talked about technical support for drug addiction counseling and making Narcan training available to residents. She said the PBSAC was thrilled about the roundabouts and were continuing to inventory Borough streets.

Kennedy discussed meeting with open space and new trail connections. He said a lot of new seniors had signed up for the Hopewell Valley Senior Services email and regular newsletter, so more people are aware of the free events and transportation offered. He said Cruise Night will take place on April 28th and a band will be playing the event at Hopewell Motors, and other happenings during Cruise Night will be set up at Louellen and Broad.

Councilmember Samara McAuliffe reported that the Green Team had discussed organic waste management education for how to compost at home and how to connect with services that are available for pick-up.

Council President Sky Morehouse said that he wanted to thank and wish good fortune to Lieutenant Bill Springer for his service to the Hopewell Township Police Department. Springer recently retired, and according to Morehouse, before his retirement was the only remaining resident of Hopewell Borough on the force.

Mackie said that the latest PFAS results were expected in mid-April.

Stuhler said the Recreation Committee has mailed all 825 fliers out to residents. The Shade Tree Committee met with the Democratic candidate for Mercer County Executive, Dan Benson,  in the hopes of working out a way to plant more trees in the Borough. The Shade Tree Committee also plans to encourage homeowners to plant more trees on their properties. The Board of Health is working to get critical funding to all before 2025 for all the health boards in the state. Mayor Paul Anzano said that he had recently attended the mayor’s meetings. He said the legislative delegation request to fund The Old Baptist Meeting House was still pending, but he was expecting progress soon and expected the request to be honored.

The next meeting of the Hopewell Borough Council is scheduled for May 4.

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MercerMe is the only hyperlocal, independent, online news outlet serving Hopewell Valley in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Contact us: [email protected] 

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