The Hoboken Planning Board spent about four-and-a-half hours on one witness at their first Story Dispensary hearing last night despite allowing residents to ask questions until about 11:30 p.m.
Just after 7 p.m., Board Chair Frank Magaletta explained that both the applicant and the objector would present their case, which includes expert testimony, cross examination of those experts, residents asking experts questions, and then public comment.
Commissioner Jim Doyle, also a councilman-at-large and a the council’s designee on the board, wanted to ensure that the project didn’t require a C variance, since that would be beyond the board’s purview.
“A D variance is needed in this case. There is a requirement of ordinance that there be a loading zone located on the block for any retail or service business use,” explained Board Counsel Scott Carlson.
“This is a conditional use and/or conditional placed upon by ordinance – specifically again 196-33:1. If any of those conditions is not met, it then does become a use variance known as a D-3 variance and the matter is cognizable in front of the zoning board of adjustment and not the planning board.”
Carlson continued that the loading zone is not a conditional use on this project, and therefore, would require a C of bulk variance in his opinion, which the planning board could grant.
Aaron Epstein, a business partner who will provide management services for Story, was the only witness who gave testimony last night and he began by reiterating many basic facts that had been mentioned at the cannabis review board and county planning board.
For example, he said there would be 15-20 employees, a maximum occupancy of 91 people, about 80-100 customers a day, two armed guards, and a handful of active cash registers.
He also said they were working on an agreement with Little Man Parking to alleviate parking concerns, stating later that they would go “above and beyond” what other businesses were doing on this front.
Martin Cabalar, counsel for 14th Street Condominium Association, Inc. who is suing Story, questioned Epstein on why he testified before the CRB that they would not need armed guards to transport cannabis from the parking garage to the facility.
“I think at the time we were also contemplating delivery vehicles parking on the street or a potential loading zone, so based on feedback from the city and the county, we kind of completely shifted our plans for that specific loading area and use of the security guard in the garage and then using the security guard to secure that process.”
Cabalar then asked if he had notified the cannabis review board of the change and he said he did not. When asked if the applicant had, he said he was unsure.
After a few board members asked some simple clarification questions, residents were allowed to question Epstein about the project.
When Mary Ondrejka asked what type of weapon the security guards would use, he said it was whatever they are SORA certified with, also noting he had never seen the guards use rifles, only handguns, in his experience.
Additionally, Joe Wisniewski was one of the more relentless residents to approach Epstein, often interrupting him and adamantly disagreeing with his replies.
“Hoboken overwhelmingly voted for legalization … The reason that it’s important to have a dispensary in uptown Hoboken is when you have to travel for this product, it’s gonna more negatively impact your low-income individuals,” Epstein rationalized.
“It’s the same reason you would want a liquor store up on 14th Street versus having to go to the PATH. You shouldn’t be burdened to have to travel because it’s legal in the state and it has been made illegal for the last 60-plus years.”
Wisniewski was far from done, later in his 15-minute or so exchange asking if Epstein would be comfortable walking past a dispensary with a guard armed “with a machine gun” with his wife and kids.
Despite Magaletta advising Epstein that he didn’t have to answer the question, he did any way, indicating that he would be comfortable before a woman screamed out “you’re a big liar!”
She continued on for a few moments before Magaletta shouting back that there would be no interrupting from the audience.
“Look: there’s two things I have to say: one is that in my other medical facility, we had well over 100 underage patients, some as young as six months old, that were medical patients that would come to the facility,” Epstein replied, noting that some banks, jewelry stores, and bodegas all have armed guards.
“Tell me a place right now, I know you don’t live in town, but tell me one place right now that has an armed guard? None! You don’t know because you don’t live in town no more, there isn’t one, I answered the question for you: is that okay?,” Wisniewski replied to laughter from the crowd.
Epstein, who said he’s been involved in the cannabis industry for six years, also discussed why he felt the amount of traffic it would bring to the area has been exaggerated.
His explanation was that with up to a dozen dispensaries coming to Jersey City, along with locations in Secaucus and North Bergen, this would not be the only one in the area by any means. Despite this fact, he said story still planned on offering a delivery service.
Nicole Magana asked if Story had done any research about the patronage at Pier 13, which is likely to attract the same clientele as their dispensary.
“There was a suggestion that 72 percent of people will frequent our establishment … I don’t think that’s reasonable just because they support marijuana,” Epstein replied.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who had urged her neighbors to attend the meeting and oppose the project, noted that neighboring Union City and Weehawken had prohibited dispensaries and that North Bergen would only have two locations on opposite ends of Tonnelle Avenue.
She also questioned Epstein on if he was familiar with the extremely densely populated neighborhood dispensary would be operating in, which includes many young families.
“The fact that a dispensary is located about Hoboken is not going to turn children into potheads, just as is Sparrow is not going to turn into alcoholics … maybe ask bars to remove signs that advertise $2 mimosas,” he replied.
“Our establishment is going to be discreet and it really frustrates me when people sling around misinformation that just because we exist, that all of a sudden, parenting your own children doesn’t matter.”
He also suggested treating the dispensary just like a kid walking by a liquor store.
The not in my back yard sentiment from residents took the meeting past 11:30 p.m. in what was a mostly tepid affair that saw a short recess from about 9:05 to 9:20 p.m.
With Epstein still likely to face questions on redirect and the further cross examination, Magaletta decided it was time to call it a night, scheduling their next hearing for August 2nd at 7 p.m. in a motion that passed unanimously (9-0).