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RED BANK: BOARD REJECTS CANNABIS LAW

red-bank-11-west-street-110521-2-1-500x332-6024064A proposed cannabis dispensary next door to Red Bank Liquors on West Street would be barred because it is within 1,000 feet of the Red Bank Charter School. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-2130637Red Bank’s pending cannabis zoning law does not comply with the borough’s Master Plan, the planning board found Monday night.

On a unanimous vote, the board rejected the controversial law, finding that it violates the plan’s goal of furthering economic development.

The board’s sole task was to conduct a consistency review to determine if the proposed law “is in violation of the Master Plan,” Chairman Dan Mancuso said.

Among other objectives, the plan, developed by the board in 2022 and adopted in February, encourages the removal of “potential barriers to entrepreneurs, new business types, and experiential retail.”

The pending cannabis ordinance, an overhaul of one enacted in 2021, was written by the council’s three-member code committee, headed by Councilmember Michael Ballard, who also sits on the planning board. He was not present Monday night.

The board focussed largely on the law’s reliance on distances to determine where pot growers and retailers could locate. It would ban sales within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and public housing, except in the Highway Development zone along Newman Springs Road.

The 1,000-foot limit is “a lot,” and forces pot businesses toward the west side of town, said board member and former councilman Art Murphy. “That’s the only place they can open anything up,” he said.

Board member Lou DiMento noted that the newly adopted Master Plan called for removing potential barriers,

“This is an arbitrary number, 1,000,” he said. “We’re adding a barrier to new businesses.”

Andy Zeitlin, who has an application pending to create a dispensary at 9 West Street, said “it seems a little inconsistent” to exempt the HD zone, because doing so would permit pot sales immediately adjacent to Count Basie Park, which he termed “the biggest congregation of sub-21-year-olds in the entire town.”

The location of Canopy Crossroad, which Zeitlin owns with his wife, Caryn Cohen, was chosen based on the 2021 version of the ordinance, with which it complied, he has testified. But the pending law would prohibit the store there because it is only about 900 feet from the Red Bank Charter School.

Board member and council candidate David Cassidy, who voted against the 2021 version when it went before the board for similar review, said the proposed restriction “is quite unfair.”

“People have put hundreds of thousands of dollars” into businesses “on reliance of an ordinance that should have had these [limits] defined from day one,” he said. “And now we’re curtailing economic development, potentially, in an inequitable manner.”

“We’re not talking about putting dispensaries next to a school,” he said, noting Zeitlin’s plan. “There is no difference between 900 and 1,000 feet. Anyone who would argue otherwise is nonsense.”

Ed Herrman, the board’s engineer, reminded members that the 1,000-foot standard came from the federal Drug-Free School law to enhance penalties for illegal drug dealing near schools.

“It was a penalty ordinance, it was not a zoning ordinance,” he said. “It was never intended to be a land-use law. But that was everyone’s frame of reference when we first started.”

“It’s a legal substance now,” said Murphy. “So that thousand feet just went out the window.”

“I’m far more worried about plopping a liquor store in a residential neighborhood than I am a cannabis dispensary,” said Mancuso.

“And all of the commentary over the last year about traffic and [customer waiting] lines – drive by the one in Eatontown now,” he continued. “There is no one left standing in front anymore. The line is not around the building like it used to be. I think these uses are going to level off.”

The council had discussed holding an adoption vote on the ordinance at its next meeting on April 26. Now, it could do so with a supermajority vote to overrule the board, said board Attorney Michael Leckstein.

Separately, the board approved a request from the owners of the Galleria at Red Bank office and retail project to be relieved of a 1995 obligation to provide offsite parking.

The unanimous approval followed testimony by a parking consultant that a Shrewsbury Avenue lot designated for spillover parking is not needed.

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