The 51-53 14th Street Condominium Association, Inc. has included a new email from Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) to several involved with Story Dispensary as part of their quest to stop the project, which occurred shortly before a new lawsuit was filed.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Please find enclosed LOI signed by the Vedadi Group. While the commencement date of 1/1 was not disturbed, I understand the dates and entity names were updated,” Mukherji wrote in a January 17th email to Drew Nussbaum, the co-owner of 51-53 14th St. along with Jaclyn Fulop – the wife of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
“The substance is identical to Mr. Kelley’s last circulated comments and markups that I understand were accepted. Also attached is the landlord cert for the municipal application.”
Also cc’ed on the email are Lee Vartan, the attorney representing Story, Aaron Epstein, an attorney who has identified himself as a consultant for the project, and Jason Vedadi, the CEO of Story Companies LLC who is subleasing the first floor of the building to the dispensary.
The owners of Story, Samantha Silva (60 percent) and Howard Hintz (40 percent), were not included.
Martin Cabalar, counsel for the condo association, has previously questioned the leasing structure, noting that a purchase option would allow it to be sold by Nussbaum for about a $1 million profit.
Epstein was previously a lawyer at CannTech Companies, a business where Mukherji serves as the CEO, while Nussbaum also chairs the Coalition for Progress super PAC linked to Steven Fulop’s potential 2025 run for governor.
Mukherji’s email came to light after the condo association filed a 70-page motion to amend a complaint that saw most of their counts dismissed in August. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants used “deceit” for the former Hudson Tavern to be sold to the plaintiffs.
The motion was made on November 30th and Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mary Costello has not ruled on on it yet.
Mukherji told HCV today that he was just helping connect friends for business purposes, that he had no financial stake in Story or the building, as well as that he turned down the opportunity to serve as counsel in the matter.
“My involvement in the medical cannabis industry, which arose from my late father’s health, has spanned many facilities across multiple states over the past decade and has given my companies the opportunity to contribute millions to clinical and translational research by medical schools,” he explained.
“So I easily could’ve invested in this dispensary or ably represented them as a client, as I’m obviously friends with some of the people involved and have done business with others involved, but passed on it right from the beginning. I didn’t want to do it within my legislative district, and, frankly, Hoboken was licensing too many dispensaries and the math wouldn’t pencil even if it was outside my district. My investments are in other locations.”
The dispensary proposal has drawn the ire of 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher and a number of her neighbors, particularly those who live in the building and are part of the pending litigation.
“The legal boxes may technically be checked, but the ethical ones certainly are not,” Fisher said, referencing a letter to the editor opposing the dispensary that was published on Monday.
About six weeks after receiving approval from the local cannabis review board, Fisher was joined by 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino in asking Story to pull their application due to backlash from residents.
That didn’t happen and Story eventually received approval from the Hoboken Planning Board last month, but it also didn’t come easy: the applicant required five hearing and over 25 hours of testimony before the governing body was able to take a vote.
The cannabis business is awaiting the final municipal approval step at the city council this evening, who convened at 7 p.m.
The measure is widely expected to pass, but even if it does, Story will still need to be licensed by New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission before they can consider opening – which likely won’t happen until their pending litigation reaches a conclusion.
“I was happy to introduce Drew and Jaclyn to potential franchisees and tenants and give free advice to various parties given my industry experience, as I’ve done for many random strangers who’ve asked. The lawsuit is filled with spurious statements and they clearly haven’t read the CRC regulations or understand how these stores are financed in order to be compliant, but even if they were true, it doesn’t help them win in court,” Mukherji added.
“Ultimately, I think their upstairs neighbors will be happier with a high end retail dispensary that closes at a reasonable hour than the alternative tenants (a restaurant/bar use open until 2 or 3am).”
The condo association’s new lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, seeks to overturn the planning board decision due to “fatal defects” in the application, alleging the ownership plan was misrepresented, that they illegally sought use of the basement, that a traffic impact study was not submitted, and not properly addressing queuing outside the business.
“Viewed through this lens, the actions of the planning board were arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable and should be set aside,” the suit says.
Vartan was dismissive of the latest filings, indicating that the association was just trying to create more delays in the process.
“This is just another fruitless effort by the Association to prevent Story from opening. As a reminder, the Planning Board vote was unanimous in favor of Story. There is no ‘deceit’ and there are no ‘fatal defects,'” he said in an email.
“All there is is a local, woman-owned business that has been approved by every governmental and regulatory body that it has come before. We look forward to receiving approval from the Hoboken City Council tonight.”