The Hoboken City Council reunited at City Hall on Wednesday for their first in-person meeting since the pandemic began. In front of a full house, the council voted to adopt new cannabis regulations, and stipulations as to how the local rent increase moratorium will end.
New cannabis rules adopted
The meeting was dominated by the new cannabis regulations, which were spoken about by many residents before being adopted by the council.
Under the new regulations, the city will limit the number of cannabis stores (both medical and recreational) to six, with a maximum of three per ward. It will also limit any facilities within 600 feet of schools or early childhood learning facilities (with approved medical dispensaries seeking retail sales being exempt from the requirement).
Lastly, the new rules will bar cannabis stores from being built on a commercial zone that stretches through 1st Street, the north part of Washington St. and 14th St., and require any applicants applying to the Cannabis Review Board to notify those within 200 feet of a proposed location about the application.
The changes to the rules stem from the backlash to a potential retail cannabis store on 14th St. at the site of the former Hudson Tavern, where residents had been wary of how a potential store would impact a residential neighborhood.
A number of residents said that the new cannabis regulations will put focus on quality-of-life issues in the city.
“I think tonight is a step in the right direction,” said Tom Brennan, the former owner of Hudson Tavern, who noted that a number of other municipalities have opted out of cannabis, and pointed to how Jersey City isn’t allowing stores in residential areas. “I think we should listen to the community, take into account the quality-of-life issues, how it will impact people’s lives.”
Some residents also framed their comments around protecting children from cannabis. “We’re not a city that requires six cannabis dispensaries dispersed across one square mile,” said resident Keith Rauschenbach. “I ask that each of you do the right thing for our community and the families who have made a commitment to our community.”
Council President Michael Russo was the only one on the council who was against the new regulations, arguing that after New Jersey legalized marijuana last year that “there is no such thing as medical dispensaries anymore.”
“I appreciate everyone’s position on this, but I think there’s a lot of other things that are outstanding, and I would hope that all members of the public consider that as it moves forward,” he said.
The council voted 8-1 to adopt the new rules, with Russo voting no.
Ending rent increase moratorium
The council also unanimously voted (with Councilman Michael DeFusco absent at the time) to stipulate how the city’s rent increase moratorium will end, which is set to expire on May 7 after Mayor Ravi Bhalla ended the city’s COVID-19 State of Emergency last month.
The stipulations state that landlords can begin increasing rent and surcharges at the time of a new tenancy or lease renewal, and that any future increase for the period of the moratorium will be allowed and applicable.
However, it will not allow any CPI increases throughout the 2020 year, and will not allow landlords to request or demand any retroactive payments as a lump sum or otherwise for increases that could have been made during the moratorium.
Cynthia Hadjiyannis, who spoke on behalf of the Hoboken Fair Housing Association, said that while the association wasn’t opposed to ending the moratorium, they were concerned that it was inconsistent with the current rent control ordinance because of the lack of prior notice and the multi-year increase.
“A tenant could be hit with a big jump in rent, all at one time,” she said as she called on the council to carry the ordinance. “It’s tough on tenants. It’s almost worse than if there had been no moratorium in the first place to hit tenants with a giant multi-year increase all in one shot.”
Councilman Phil Cohen said that the ordinance was worked on to have “no ambiguity,” noting the changes to the language for retroactive payments.
“I just wanted to make that point clearly that this is an important protection and clear guidance to landlords as to what they cannot do for not having the moratorium,” he said.
Councilman Jim Doyle also said that the comments on not having the moratorium were “ridiculous,” and that if there will be confusion if they don’t pass the ordinance.
The council adopted an ordinance 6-0-3 that notably increases the maximum salary of new Acting Police Chief Steve Aguiar to $255,000, with Council members Michael DeFusco, Jen Giattino and Ruben Ramos abstaining.
They also passed a resolution to appoint former Acting Police Chief Ken Ferrante as the city’s new Public Safety director, with Ramos voting no, and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher abstaining.
Lastly, ordinances for the Hoboken Yard Redevelopment Plan and additional cannabis regulations to bar dispensaries from the Marineview 1 and 2 were carried over.