After a marathon six hour meeting on Story Dispensary’s seemingly never ending quest to get the Hoboken Planning Board’s approval, the session ended the same way it has over the past three months: getting carried due to sheer length of the meeting.
Story, who are seeking to create a retail cannabis store in the site of the former Hudson Tavern, have been met with controversy ever since they came before the city’s Cannabis Review Board in February over some resident’s concerns on how a cannabis store would affect the neighborhood.
Although they got the cannabis board’s approval at the time, Story has been dragged through multiple meetings before the Planning Board since June, mainly due to the sheer number of questions they’ve been peppered with that causes the meetings to go late and be adjourned until next time.
The controversy has since then sparked broader conversations about cannabis as a whole in the Mile Square City, caused the City Council to pass a number of new cannabis regulations, and prompted a lawsuit to stop Story that got dismissed.
Hoboken residents voted by a 5-to-1 margin in the 2020 statewide referendum to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, with 21,056 casting yes votes and 4,049 voting no.
The routine on Sept. 19 was the same as last time, with project planner John McDonough peppered with questions from the public, as well as cross-examination from Martin Cabalar, the attorney representing the condo association in the building where Story could be located.
McDonough explained during his testimony that Story is seeking a conditional use approval, that they’re not requesting relief from a number of conditional use standards, and are seeking minor site plan approval for street scape improvements.
“From a zone conformance standpoint, we have an applicant here that is not looking to violate the rules, but play by the rules,” he said. “That’s really again the essence of what good planning should be.”
He also said that the application has “strict and literal compliance” with the ordinance, and that it will promote “the general welfare,” saying that it was why cannabis was legalized in New Jersey in the first place.
During Cabalar’s cross-examination, he asked McDonough if he knew that the Planning Board has power to impose additional conditions of approval “necessary to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the residents, visitors, the surrounding area and the city of Hoboken,” and that if the applicant couldn’t meet those conditions, they would be denied.
McDonough replied yes, and noted that they would be agreeable to “reasonable” conditions, and that they could be imposed by the board during the process.
But Jennifer Porter, an attorney representing Story, argued that if the Planning Board finds Story in compliance with all of the conditions set in the ordinance, then the applicant is entitled to be approved “free of any conditions imposed by the board.”
Following the cross-examination, public questioning began, with McDonough facing questions from the public, as well as from Council members Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino, over the density of the neighborhood, traffic impact, and the “general welfare,” amongst other topics.
At one point, a heated exchange took place when resident Joe Wisniewski grilled McDonough on whether or not Story would be “an ideal location with the amount of traffic it’s going to bring into the quiet residential area.”
“Would you feel comfortable based on your 12 times going by there, would you feel comfortable walking by with your family, going to the supermarket or walking to a Starbucks on a Saturday morning knowing that there’s two armed guards out there, and at any time, anything could go wrong?” he asked. “Be honest.”
After questioning towards McDonough had finished and more cross-examination, Cabalar brought in professional engineer Keith Bergman to testify and argue that the usage of a cannabis dispensary at the proposed location would increase trip generation across the board.
“If there [is] going to be a huge change that dramatically increases the trips generated, a traffic impact study ought to be performed, which would include traffic counts, levels of services for the traffic operations, as well as capacity,” said Bergman.
As the meeting dragged on, the spectators in the gallery began to melt away, and it was clear that a few of the board commissioners were visibly fatigued. As the meeting went past midnight, a security guard even flicked the lights in the room on and off to let everyone know of the time.
Shortly afterward 1 a.m., the longest a hearing has ever gone for Story before the Planning Board, the board decided to adjourn again and hear them on Nov. 1, with plans to have one more witness from the objectors testify before public comments.