By JOHN T. WARD
Three months after Red Bank changed its zoning laws to allow sales of medical marijuana, the borough has rejected its first application for a retail pot shop, officials said Wednesday night.
The denial appears to underscore one of the main problems such a business would have to navigate: limitations on their proximity to schools and parks.
Officials said the Galleria, marked with a star, is too close to the Red Bank Charter School, marked with a dot. (Google Map. Click to enlarge.)
Though the applicant was not identified in discussion at the council’s workshop meeting Wednesday, redbankgreen has learned that the owners of the Galleria at Red Bank office and restaurant complex on Bridge Avenue at West Front Street made the filing last month.
The application called for creating an alternative treatment center called Breakwater in the space now occupied by Siam Garden restaurant, according to the filing. Breakwater operates an ATC in Cranbury, one of only six allowed statewide under New Jersey’s medical marijuana law.
In October, hoping to encourage new business creation, the council amended a zoning ordinance to allow medical marijuana shops in specified zones, provided they complied with applicable state and federal laws.
In his January 25 denial of the request, planning director Glenn Carter wrote that while the Galleria property is within a zone that allows ATCs, and the store itself would be more than 1,000 feet from a school, a portion of the Galleria is less than 1,000 feet from the Red Bank Charter School.
Property records indicate the sprawling Galleria complex takes up 2.6 acres of land. Siam Garden is at the furthest point in the building from the school, which is located between Monmouth and Oakland streets.
The state’s “Drug Free School Zone law does not differentiate between the entire lot and the portion of the lot to be used by the ATC,” Carter wrote in his decision. He told the Galleria that the rejection would be reconsidered “if statutory language or case law is presented that does make this decision,” according to the file.
Here’s the full documentation on the plan: Breakwater denial 020719
George Sourlis, a principal in the family business that owns the Galleria, told redbankgreen that the family is “still working through whatever we have to do to move forward” on the application. He said Siam Garden is still operating in the space but declined further comment.
The owner of the restaurant could not be reached for comment Thursday. [UPDATE: Siam Garden owner Myra Downey told redbankgreen Thursday evening that after 20 years in the Galleria, the restaurant will not renew its lease, which ends in August. “It hasn’t been decided yet” whether the business will reopen elsewhere, she said.]
A representative of Breakwater did not immediately respond to a message.
But with the state and federal restrictions, “we’re looking at a very tiny nugget of Red Bank where an ATC could exist,” said Councilwoman Kate Triggiano.
She asked if maps were available to potential ATC applicants indicating which properties might be off-limits “so we’re not wasting their time.” Business Administrator Ziad Shehady responded that the police department has such a map based on state law and that the borough has received requests for it.
He noted also that Veteran’s Park, an infrequently visited traffic island at West Front Street and Riverside Avenue, “has a radius around it, which increases the prohibition onto Front Street” under state law.
“So the question is, how do we get that disqualified as a park if that’s something we want to do,” Shehady said. “Because right now, it’s considered a park that’s got a circle around it that extends into the arts district” where the Galleria is located.
Carter noted that the federal the drug-free zone law differs slightly from the state version, making things “a little tricky.”
As to the Galleria, “we did leave the door open” for the business to come back and make its case, he told the council.
Under the state’s medical marijuana law, would-be dispensaries must first provide evidence of a location and municipal approval before applying for a permit; under the borough ordinance, a shop would have to hold one of the licenses to open here.
In December, the state Department of Health chose six dispensaries from among 146 applicants to join the six already operating. None were in Monmouth County.
Separately, with the backing of Governor Phil Murphy, legislators are debating whether to legalize non-medical cannabis possession and use for people 21 years old or older.