River Edge Borough Council Considers Cannabis Retail Zone Amidst Public Debate

The River Edge Borough Council held a special meeting on February 5th, 2024, to deliberate on the establishment of a cannabis overlay zone along Route 4 East to the River Edge border. The meeting drew considerable public interest, with discussions focusing on the potential financial benefits, regulatory framework, security plans, and the potential impact on the community.

The council outlined that the proposed cannabis retail store would be subject to conditional use standards, with stringent conditions including site plan reviews and security protocols akin to high-end retail stores. In addition to an armed presence, the store would feature high-resolution LED cameras and a secure product vault. Concerns regarding parking and traffic management, particularly during peak hours, were addressed, and state regulations were noted to prevent visible cannabis paraphernalia from the storefront.

Councilwoman Michelle Kaufman cited significant tax revenue from other New Jersey towns with cannabis sales, a point supported by an expert from the law firm representing the borough. Daniel Lagana provided an overview of the regulatory framework, including types of licenses, tax revenue, licensing fees, and the borough’s authority to suspend or revoke licenses for violations.

Residents presented mixed reactions, with several written comments and direct statements during the public comment section of the meeting. Some residents backed the proposal, emphasizing the financial uplift experienced by neighboring towns and the relief it could provide to local property owners. Others expressed trepidation about the influence on community safety, the sale of cannabis products attractive to children, and potential increases in crime rates.

Anthony Arturi, a proponent, spoke to the increased revenue and property values, while John Perino and Tech Borman raised concerns over appeal to children and skepticism over cannabis as a gateway drug. Stephanie Hartman and Lynn Goldberg opposed the dispensary, citing community image and effects on youth, respectively. Carl Hlan and Kenny Layman represented the spectrum of resident views, with Hlan in favor due to a previous referendum and Layman seeking more information.

Chief of Police Thomas Papaleo shared insights from other towns that have legalized recreational marijuana, dispelling misconceptions and detailing robust security measures at such establishments. He assured that local law enforcement was prepared to adapt to the new legal framework, with initial heavy presence potentially decreasing over time.

The council agreed to allow both in-person and remote comments. A resident shared positive observations from a visit to a neighboring town’s cannabis retailer, noting financial benefits and minimal law enforcement impact.

The council discussed the ordinance introduction process, which would include a planning board review for consistency with the borough’s master plan, notification of residents within 200 feet, and a public hearing for further comments. The timeframe for a retailer’s opening was estimated to be one to two years post-ordinance adoption.

Additional concerns about public smoking and the Smoke Free Air Act of 2004 were raised, with residents asking for restrictions near playgrounds and schools. The council considered feedback from both proponents and opponents of the dispensary, emphasizing the need for thoughtful decision-making.

The meeting concluded without a final decision, with the council opting to continue the discussion at the next open meeting. The council members thanked the public for their participation, acknowledging the importance of community engagement in the decision-making process.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Mayor:
Thomas Papaleo
City Council Officials:
Michelle Kaufman, Barry Benson, David Glass, Klodiana Malellari, Lissa Montisano-Koen, Indira Kinsella

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