August Township Committee meetings focus on COVID, food trucks, and cannabis

The August Township Committee held a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 23 to discuss the future of cannabis in their community and what can be done to help regulate it.

The new britain township newsletter is a publication that covers the meetings of the August Township Committee. Topics covered in this edition include COVID, food trucks, and cannabis.

August-Township-Committee-meetings-focus-on-COVID-food-trucks-and

 

The Hopewell Township Committee addressed COVID cases, food truck permits, and the next phase of the cannabis law during its two bi-monthly meetings in August.

Township Health Officer Dawn Marling stated at the August 2 meeting that Hopewell has observed a rise in the COVID Delta strain, which is prolonging the epidemic. “During July, we were doing around four cases a week, and I had five cases this past weekend, so that was a significant increase.” We’re finding instances among vaccinated people, which isn’t surprising considering how many of our folks are vaccinated,” Marling added.

Even if people are completely vaccinated, Mayor Julie Blake advised that they continue to wear their masks to help halt the spread of the Delta variety. “I’d want to remind them to utilize their best practices,” says the speaker. Even I have trouble remembering to wear a mask in public places. It is critical, as you are aware, whether you are completely vaccinated or not. Despite our vaccination status, the CDC has said that we [may be] carriers of the virus,” Blake added.

The Committee had considered returning to in-person sessions in September during a prior meeting. However, Marling cautioned that the epidemic is constantly changing and may alter in a month’s time. “By mid-September, I believe a lot can happen. At the present, Hopewell Valley isn’t considered a high transmission region, but if you look into a crystal ball and suggest that by the middle of September, it would be a smart choice to gather a group of people in a meeting room, it may very well be something we need to back away from,” she added.

On August 2, the Committee considered allowing licensed food trucks to operate inside the Township without having to get a permission each time they “set up shop.” Instead, the Committee examined a simplified permitting procedure that would enable a food truck to visit the Township at various locations throughout the year under a single yearly license. The Robbinsville ordinance was submitted before the Committee by Scott Miccio, an attorney representing the Committee. “I looked at the Robbinsville law because it had the breadth and goal of their ordinance, which I believe is comparable to what we may be attempting to do here in Hopewell,” Miccio said.

Robbinsville’s law, according to Miccio, includes an annual renewal license, as well as background checks, fire and health inspections, and specified zoning zones for food trucks to operate in. “Applicants for food truck licenses must have insurance. The police department, fire department, and health department all conduct investigations after that,” Miccio said.

Micheal Ruger, a committee member, expressed worry about competition from local eateries. “The truth is that individuals have a finite amount of money to spend on food and a finite desire. So when someone goes to a food truck, they are opting out of going to a grocery store to purchase food or opting out of eating at a local restaurant,” Ruger said. “My main worry has been about competitiveness. Now, if our local restaurant owners aren’t worried about it, I’m not going to replace their worry with mine.”

Before making a final decision, the Committee ordered counsel to draft a resolution that would be reviewed by the Planning Board in October.

Although the Committee said on August 2 that it expected to have a final decision on cannabis opt-in/opt-out by the August 21 deadline, obstacles arose in the meantime.

As previously stated, all towns in New Jersey were needed to opt in or out of cannabis-related licenses by August 21, 2021. Municipalities that choose to participate did so by passing laws outlining the kind of activities they would permit. Even if a municipality chooses to opt out completely, it may still opt back in at any point. It would automatically enable any cannabis company to operate under its authority if it did nothing.

“The only criteria, the only licenses that the Hopewell Township Committee is contemplating at this time are the first and second licenses, which allow for (1) cultivation and (2) manufacturing/processing,” Blake said on August 2.

With the State deadline approaching, the Committee decided to opt out of granting any cannabis licenses inside the Township at their August 16 meeting. The Committee did, however, propose the first reading of a new law that would enable cultivation and manufacturing in certain parts of the Township.

Miccio explained that while the first reading of an ordinance allowing cannabis cultivation/manufacture was introduced on August 2, it had been updated by the Planning Board and certain stakeholders, such as the Watershed Institute, in the weeks since, to the point where it was no longer the same document. After then, the amended text had to be officially presented for the first time as a first reading. As a result, there was no time to finish the full ordinance approval procedure by the August 21 deadline set by the State.

“The primary goal of that is to make sure we meet the State date,” Miccio said, “because if we don’t reach the State deadline, [all cannabis licenses] will be imposed upon the Township of Hopewell, and we won’t have an option about how to roll out.”

Cannabis cultivation and production will be permitted only in the “Valley Resource Conservation (VRC)” zone, according to the amended draft ordinance. Furthermore, it will be permitted only on parcels of at least 50 acres with a minimum of 15% lot coverage. Finally, the farm must be on a state or county route within two miles of an interstate interchange. Areas that match this criterion may be seen on the map below.

The ordinance specifies requirements for greenhouse interior lighting (blackout shades must be used from dusk to dawn); noise generated must not exceed State and Township regulations; odors from cannabis cultivation and storage must be contained so that “a reasonable person of normal sensitivity” at the property line cannot detect them; and pollen must be contained. Furthermore, without a State license, no one may run a cannabis cultivation/manufacturing facility.

The new law will become part of the Valley Resource Conservation District’s zoning standards, necessitating a “super notice” to all Hopewell homeowners within that zone prior to the ordinance’s second reading in September. Residents will receive this notice in the mail, according to Blake.

“It won’t impact everyone in that region,” she said, “but if you reside in or near that zoning area, you will get two mailings, one certified and the other uncertified.”

The new britain township municipal building is a project that the August Township Committee is focusing on. They are also considering food trucks and cannabis as options for bringing in revenue.

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