ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – With fewer than two dozen people both on ZOOM and in person at the meeting, the planning board reviewed a number of recommendations they will have to the Mayor and Council before the public hearing and possible adoption next Thursday of an ordinance which would enable both retail and manufacturing cannabis operations in specific sections of the community.
The recommendations from the planners do not have to be adopted by the governing body; they are simply areas where the planning board members feel the governing body could incorporate specific items in the ordinance. The board had already determined cannabis businesses are in conformance with the borough’s Master Plan.
Council can react in several different ways at Thursday’s meeting, expecting to draw large crowds from residents on both sides of the issue. They can decide to withhold any further action on the ordinance until they looked more carefully into the planning board recommendations, they could decide they did not want to accept any of the recommendations and hold the public hearing and final vote at their meeting, they could hold the public hearing and delay their vote on the final approval of the proposed ordinance for another meeting, or they can decide they want one or more of the planning board recommendations included. Should the Mayor and Council opt for that last possibility, or make any changes in the proposed code, the code would be ended right then, and a new process started. That process would once again include an introduction, referral to the planning board, public hearing and adoption, which would mean final action on a new code could be delayed until October or possibly November.
With a sparse crowd at the planning board meeting and no one wanting to be heard either in person or on ZOOM concerning the recommendations, Dr. Merissa Zuzulock and other members of the subcommittee which has reviewed the proposed code cited about ten suggestions they would make. These included consideration of limiting foot traffic, spelling out buffer zones, eliminating black shades be required on retail cannabis businesses, limiting the size of the businesses, including height restrictions for manufacturing, and granting conditional use for specific times to see how the new business fares. Members talked about the buffer distance in relation to the elementary school, and the impact on parking and additional law enforcement but made no specific recommendations any of those areas.
Planning board member John McGoldrick chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman Douglas Pepe. The board unanimously agreed to have attorney Michael Steib write a letter by Monday listing the recommendations, with the plan to have that information to the Mayor and Council in time for the governing body to review it before Thursday’s public hearing and possible adoption.
That there will be a crowed at the meeting is anticipated in light of a recent gathering at the Senior Center in the Yacht Harbor called by a grass roots group of residents opposed to any cannabis businesses in town.
Councilmen James Murphy, Brian Boms and Steve Boracchia were all present at the meeting, with Murphy highly vocal in his opposition to any of the businesses permitted anyplace in Atlantic Highlands. The group has received donations from local residents, has had signs printed and displayed on residents lawns throughout the borough and has circulated petitions all in opposition to cannabis businesses in the borough.
Likewise, dozens of people in favor of cannabis have been at council meetings showing their support for some type of business, arguing a larger percentage of the local population voted in favor at the state election which made cannabis legal for sale, manufacture, distribution and use in the Garden State.
In other business at the meeting the planning board gave unanimous approval of a variance for the Paskewich property at 104 Asbury Ave, and after presentations and hearings, also approved a minor site plan and use change for True North Management LLC at 68 First Avenue to permit another medical business within the complex of businesses already active in the building. Planners also approved a variance the Kelley property at 35 E. Garfield ave. enabling the Kelley’s to make renovations to a century old garage for personal use and storage.