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RED BANK: NO DECISION ON CANNABIS SHOP

9-west-street-050123-1-500x361-9126988A rendering of the proposed home of Canopy Crossroad at 9 West Street, next door to Red Bank Liquors. (Rendering by Stephen Raciti Architect. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919A plan for a retail cannabis shop in Red Bank ran into some of the same objections fueling an effort to rewrite where such businesses can operate in town Monday night.

Among them: that it’s too close to a school.

andy-zeitlin-050123-500x375-7691152Shop co-owner Andy Zeitlin, center, with attorney Rick Brodsky Monday night. The shop would abut Red Bank Liquors, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

red-bank-11-west-street-110521-1-1-220x146-7524795Representatives of Canopy Crossroad, who hope to open at at 9 West Street, next door to Red Bank Liquors, also faced questions about parking.

The business, owned by Andy Zeitlin and Caryn Cohen of Middletown, holds a conditional license from the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Under the borough’s 2021 cannabis zoning law, which is still in effect, Canopy Crossroad also obtained a resolution from the town council attesting that the issuance of a license by the state “would not exceed any municipally-imposed limit.”

But the shop needs a variance for parking, with an obligation to provide nine spaces, based on the combined retail square footage of the cannabis shop and the unrelated liquor store. The adjoining parking lot provides seven.

Zeitlin told the board that up to nine employees and a comparable number of customers might be in the shop at one time. But employees would be directed not to park their vehicles in the lot, and instead to use the parking garage at 141 West Front Street, which he would pay for, he said.

West Street resident Damon Murtha raised concerns that Canopy Crossroad’s customers would take up the available street parking. In addition, he said, traffic congestion at West and West Front streets would impede the movement of cars in and out of the parking lot.

“I’m surprised there wasn’t a traffic study, because that gets challenging to a point that even residents at times go the opposite way” to avoid “gridlock,” Murtha said. “We definitely have to consider the amount of volume this is going to be bringing into the area.”

Chairman Dan Mancuso told Murtha that the application met the legal definition of a “minor” site plan, and thus was not required to submit a traffic study. Mancuso also suggested, and Zeitlin agreed, that the shop encourage customers to park their cars in the garage.

Planning board member and Councilman Michael Ballard, who has led the pending effort to rewrite the zoning law as it applies to cannabis businesses, pressed Zeitlin about the federal Drug Free School Zones law, which increase penalties for illegal drug-dealing within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

“Why is that not important to you?” Ballard asked.

“It is important to me,” Zeitlin replied. The federal law, he said, “was passed for illicit drugs. Regulated, legal cannabis is not an illicit drug.”

If an illegal-drug dealer “decided to set up shop in in Red Bank Liquors, that would be an application of the drug-free zone,” he said.

Under the pending amendment, written by the council’s three-member code committee headed by Ballard, retail cannabis sales within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and public housing would be prohibited, except in the Highway Development zone along Newman Springs Road.

The West Street site would be barred for use as a pot shop because it’s too close to the Red Bank Charter School on Monmouth Street. Zeitlin has said the distance is about 890 feet.

Two weeks ago, the planning board, with Ballard absent, unanimously declared the proposed zoning amendments out of compliance with the borough’s Master Plan because they would impede, rather than advance, economic development.

The planning board hearing was scheduled to resume May 15. Peter Wersinger, attorney for the nearby Red Bank Corporate Center, at 141 West Front, told the board he planned “extended cross-examination” of Zeitlin.

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