Hoboken Planning Board meeting on cannabis dispensary ends on cliffhanger

The controversial application was tabled until August after a long, tiring meeting

Arron Epstein, one of the business partners of Story Dispensary, is questioned by Tom Brennan, the former owner of the Hudson Tavern where Story could be. Photo by Mark Koosau.

A Hoboken Planning Board meeting to hear a controversial recreational cannabis application ended on a cliffhanger Thursday night, when the evening got late due to the number of residents who wanted to tell the board how they felt about the proposal.

The applicants were moved to another meeting in August.

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The board had heard Story Dispensary, who want to open a recreational dispensary at the site of the former Hudson Tavern in northeast Hoboken. Story has been met with criticism since their initial cannabis board hearing back in February over how a dispensary would affect the neighborhood there.

Since then, multiple council members led by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who represents the 2nd Ward where the dispensary might be, have called on the applicants to withdraw their application. The condo owners living above the former tavern have also sued to stop them, alleging they were misled in the creation of it.

Despite the backlash and the ongoing litigation, Story pushed forward to be heard before the planning board, although they were only able to have one person, Aaron Epstein, a business partner and former Hoboken resident, testify in front of a full house City Council chamber.

Epstein is from a firm providing management services for Story. He said he’s been in the cannabis industry for six years and was also the CFO and vice president of Garden State Dispensary.

During his testimony, Epstein said that Story will have all retail operations take place on the first floor, with an entrance on 14th St. and a security guard desk to check for IDs. He also added that they plan on hiring 15-20 employees locally, the location will have a maximum occupancy of 91 people, and estimated an average of 80-100 customers a day.

Arron Epstein was pressed on a number of questions ranging from traffic, security, and outside sales. Photo by Mark Koosau.

He then said that they will not have any consumption areas, along with not allowing it outside the property. They also plan on having two security guards that will be former law enforcement individuals, with one at the front desk and other surveying the exterior.

For traffic and transportation, Epstein said that their goal is to have “very little” impact on traffic and parking, and proposed getting parking garage space for their employees and subsidizing public transit expenses. On the consumer side, they’re considering validating parking for patrons and plan to offer discounts for those that take public transit.

He also said that they plan on having the delivery vehicles via sprinter vans unload the products at a nearby parking garage and escorted by armed guards, with deliveries taking place once-a-day.

Martin Calabar, an attorney representing the condo association suing Story, cross-examined Epstein for the objectors. Calabar asked about their advanced online ordering programs, and Epstein affirmed that since they have to still pick up inside, it wouldn’t decrease the number of patrons that enter.

Calabar also pressed on whether or not Story will sell edible cannabis, to which Epstein replied that they will and will offer any products that are approved by New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

A long line of speakers then formed to question Epstein about his testimony. One of the topics he was pressed on was how many people would come out of town to Hoboken to the location.

“There’s three types of customer you’re gonna have: the walk-in, the delivery, so the people may be in another town, and then you’re going to have your deliveries,” said resident Mary Ondrejka. “What are you guessing at for your location?”

Epstein replied that he thinks out-of-town purchases will be “unlikely”, arguing that there will be other locations open such as in Jersey City, Secaucus and North Bergen.

“We’re not a manufacturer, so it’s not like we’re carrying our exclusive product,” he said. “Nobody else has access to it. So the products we sell are gonna be the same exact products as others that are in other dispensaries.”

He was also questioned about the usage of security guards, both at the store, and armed guards protecting the product deliveries.

“You said that [the security guards] were going to be responsible for preventing people from loitering [the] space immediately outside the facility,” said resident Elaine Fenna. “So how are they going to enforce that? Are they going to have the ability to put their hands on people? If people don’t listen to what they say, what is their next step? What are the parameters around being able to draw their weapons?”

“If you have somebody that’s disrupting a business, you try to give them verbal warnings,” replied Epstein. “If they cause a problem and won’t leave, you call the police. If they present an immediate threat to the business or the person, then other measures I think would be appropriate.”

“Including use of force?” asked Fenna.

“If the individual was presenting a life threatening situation to one of our consumers or our employees, then that would be an appropriate time for security to step in,” replied Epstein.

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher has been opposed to Story Dispensary, which could be in her 2nd Ward. Photo by Mark Koosau.

Councilwoman Fisher herself questioned Epstein on the traffic impact in the area. “What are your thoughts on how you’re going to help keep those people from taking up very scarce parking?” she asked. “It ripples through anyone who lives within three or four blocks, right?”

Epstein replied that there wasn’t one thing that could solves the city’s parking issue. “Our traffic engineer will testify that we think[…] is going to have less impact than other potential uses,” he said. “On top of that, we put together this comprehensive plan that I’ve gone over extensively that involves information, education, discounts, validating markets.”

“I hate to put words in the other businesses,” he continued. “But for business in that area, this is going above and beyond any other business establishment then what they have done to try to mitigate the parking on that area.”

With the meeting having lasted past 11 p.m., the board eventually decided to adjourn and move the applicants over to their Aug. 2 meeting at 7 p.m..

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.