A potential recreational cannabis business at the Hudson Tavern site in Hoboken has lit up the ongoing feud between Mayor Ravi Bhalla and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Bhalla began his 1,450 word Nixle alert, which also appeared on the city website, by reminding resides that New Jerseyans voted in favor of legalizing cannabis by a 2-1 margin in 2020, with over 70 percent of Mile Square City residents voting yes.
My personal view at the time, as it remains today, is that the legalization of adult use cannabis provides not only a substantial economic opportunity for Hoboken, but more importantly, an opportunity for us as a community repair damage that the “war on drugs” caused minority communities in Hoboken,” he wrote.
“This damage included countless youth in Hoboken who were tagged as criminals and incarcerated for simple possession of minor amounts of cannabis – an offense which is now legal.”
The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board approved their first application for the Story Dispensary of Hoboken, located at 51-53 14th St., unanimously (3-0) on Thursday at a nearly five-hour meeting that included commentary from many angry residents.
Story CEO Samantha Silva faced criticism for not voluntarily notifying residents within 200 feet of the project of the hearing, as well as for not taking questions directly.
Her attorney, Lee Vartan, of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, said it was his decision not to send out the notifications.
Tom Brennan, the former tavern owner, claimed that property buyers Drew Nussbaum and Jaclyn Fulop, of the Exchange Physical Therapy Group – who have a location across the street – had committed to making the building a physical therapy location and the residents were unaware of the dispensary proposal until two days before the meeting.
“Where is the fairness, where is the transparency? This whole thing just seems to be conducted in a really questionable manner … This is the direct community that this will be adversely affecting: these people have chosen 51-53 to be their home so.”
Board members Jason Freeman, the city business administrator, Mike Russo, the city council president, and Leo Pellegrini, the city health and human services director, were undeterred that this was a good investment in the city despite the public outcry against.
“I look forward to continuing the conversation with Ms. Silva, her entire team, and trying to make this a successful partnership between the city, Story Dispensary, and the residents of Hoboken,” Freeman said.
Russo said he was “thrilled” businesses like can now operate within the city guidelines, though also said that Silva and her team need to make amends with her neighbors. He also said it was “unfair” for the landlords of the property to be panned along with the business.
Fisher, who represents the ward where the dispensary would be located, panned the decision on Twitter.
“The #Hoboken Cannabis Review Board should be ashamed of themselves. Simultaneously insulted & ignored concerns of members of the public & defended the applicant. Literally gave their recommendations b/4 hearing the public comments,” she wrote.
She also signed and promoted a petition to “Protect Hoboken Families and Children from Cannabis Dispensary Dangers.”
In his Nixle alert from today, Bhalla noted that the council did not vote on the cannabis zoning ordinances until after getting feedback from each elected official, including Fisher, and all four were approved unanimously (9-0).
The mayor also accused Fisher of spreading “misinformation” without getting into specifics, going on to say that Hudson Tavern sits in a permitted retail location and that the dispensary still need planning board and council approval.
He further stated that the cannabis board approval came after Story agreed to not apply for a consumption license, will pay for the salary of an additional police officer each year, make a $50,000 annual donation to the Hoboken Affordable Trust Fund, and provide an annual cannabis consumption program for residents.
Additionally, if approved, 2 percent of the revenue from the sale of cannabis would be provided back to the City of Hoboken, 75 percent of which must be allocated for “advancing restorative justice in Hoboken.”
Bhalla also recommended making amendments that would limit six dispensaries for the whole city (as well as three per ward), requiring notice provided to residents within 200 feet of a project before the Cannabis Review Board, and preventing dispensaries from being within 750 feet of a school or day care.
These suggestions will be introduced as an ordinance at the March 9th council meeting, which Fisher took most of the credit for.
“I’m thrilled to see that Mayor Bhalla supports the majority of the common sense amendments I submitted on Monday morning and that we will see this on the 3/9 agenda,” she said.
“I disagree with his revisionist history and will continue, like I always have done, to advocate for the residents of the 2nd Ward and Hoboken.”
While the last provision would apply to the Hudson Tavern application, city spokeswoman Marilyn Baer said the ordinance would not apply retroactively.
“If adopted on first and second reading, the amendments would apply to applications not yet submitted,” she said.