HP Council hits pause on cannabis one more time

The Hopewell Borough Council will return to the drawing board to revise the proposed cannabis ordinance after citizens at the Council meeting May 5 raised concerns that the ordinance does not give the Council enough authority to be selective about applicants. 

Mayor Paul Anzano and Council members encouraged residents to reach out before the next meeting, in June, if they have suggestions about where, within the zones, a cannabis business should not be located. A zoning map that labels the business-residential and service zones is available on the Borough’s website

The Council was set to vote on an ordinance to allow two cannabis businesses in Hopewell Borough. The ordinance would have accepted applicants on a first come, first serve basis, and would have allowed a dispensary to operate anywhere within the business-residential zone and a dispensary or delivery service to operate anywhere within the service zone. After hearing from more residents at the meeting’s public session, they decided to further amend the location and set criteria to rank applicants in the case that the Borough receives multiple applicants. 

During the public session, Susan Pollara, of 20 Princeton Avenue, encouraged the Council to put parameters in the ordinance that would give them more strength in approving or rejecting applicants. 

A local first responder testified that he does not view cannabis as a commodity and worries about the dangers of having it in the community. He noted that police officers cannot use it off duty as it may be an impairment to them the next day at work. 

Mayor Paul Anzano responded that the law on whether or not officers can use Cannabis off-duty is still unsettled

“We have a liquor store in town. A police officer can use that and be hungover at work,” noted Councilmember Debra Stuhler. 

Heidi Wilenius, a local resident and business owner, said that alcohol is a lot more dangerous than marijuana, but that she would not want to make it illegal. She welcomed people who may come into town to purchase cannabis and then buy something in her store on the way out of town. 

Councilmember Ryan Kennedy asked the Borough attorney what options the Council might have to set up a type of ranking system that would allow the Council to ensure the business would be a good fit. 

Councilmember Sky Morehouse said such parameters were arbitrary. 

The attorney said that many other towns had elected to go the route of a ranked system. 

Councilmember David Mackie agreed that the language was a little vague giving the Council too little latitude. 

Borough Administrator Michelle Hovan pointed out that this was discussed extensively at prior meetings before everyone decided on opening up those two zones. 

Beth Miko, 27 Model Ave, said, “Why are you in a hurry to pass it tonight? Take one more look before it is vague. Instead of making assumptions that no one or everyone will come here. Wait. Talk about it.”

The Council voted no to the Cannabis ordinance. 

“This is something our community largely embraces. From a commercial perspective, I’m completely in favor. If we could choose the location, I’m in favor of exploring this issue,” said Kennedy. 

“I’m in support in general. I think it’s worth doing more research,” said Mackie. 

Councilmember Samara McAuliffe said that she was very much in favor, but would like a different draft. 

Anzano said that he was disappointed that the community waited until the last minute to express concerns. The mayor said he was always available to talk to residents, and that he even invites residents to feel free to approach him with questions or suggestions if they see him at a local business or walking his dog. “Bring concerns up early. People knew, or should have known, thirty days ago.

Mackie said, “I’m grateful we had this discussion. We can put in the controls we need so we are not in a position to approve something when we do not have the tools.” 

Anzano said, “Find us on the street. I’m always available to have discussions. I encourage you to speak up and not wait.”

Kennedy disagreed and said the meetings were an appropriate place to speak to the Council. “I am very appreciative of the people who got a babysitter or skipped dinner to come here. I’m also appreciative that we have a very accessible mayor.”

Members of the The Hopewell Borough Pedestrian, Bicycle and Safety Advisory Committee (PBSAC) asked to set up more regular meetings with the board to open up the lines of communication. The board agreed to meet with the PBSAC more regularly. 

Pollara said that she liked the new email system in place in the Borough, but would like the town to communicate more clearly about town-happenings, especially road work. She questioned why a yellow line to indicate no parking had appeared on Broad Street without the church or businesses being informed. 

Mackie said it had always been a no parking zone, and that the new yellow line was painted over a very faded, existing line. “People may not have realized it was an existing ordinance. We did not extend the no parking.”

Mackie said he would research and find out if the no parking zone was a Borough or County ordinance in order to know if the zone can even be changed, but in the meantime, the yellow line has to stay as it is currently under ordinance.  

Pollara asked if the Council could share upcoming road projects that would affect local businesses and residents. 

Hovan said that the Board had hoped that lead pipes on Broad Street could be removed during the repaving of Broad in 2023, however, the state wants it completed by the end of the year. She said Broad Street would have to be ripped up and patched back before the end of the year. 

Wilenius said, “This is why I love this town. We have real conversations.”

The Council adopted the ordinance to raise water rates at the second reading, voted yes on a storm management first reading that updates a prior ordinance with updates language from the state, and approved the municipal budget with a 4.48% tax increase before adjourning.

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