The Hoboken Planning Board held the second part of a hearing for the controversial Story Dispensary last night which saw great opposition.
The project has a pending court case. It was cleared by the Hoboken Cannabis Review Board in February and the Hudson County Planning Board in May. Neighbors have been outspoken against it.
Their fury has been so great that it prompted Hoboken to scale back its initially progressive cannabis ordinance. It included adult-use cannabis consumption lounges. Hoboken went from allowing an unlimited amount of cannabis dispensaries to only six. The city has the most bars in the United States,
The ordinance was passed last summer when COVID restrictions prevented public gatherings and campaigning. The opposition has had no such hindrance.
The opposition has been so great two Hoboken Planning Board meetings were devoted solely to Story Dispensary. Story Dispensary itself also seems to have done absolutely nothing to secure public support. Opposition to Story dispensary includes those who oppose Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and City Council’s pro-cannabis President Mike Russo.
Many cannabis license applicants don’t seem to realize the process to licensing is comparable to a political campaign.
The Story Dispensary CEO is Hoboken native Samantha Silva. She owns 60 percent, while Arizona resident Howard Hintz owns 40 percent. Hintz was listed as the Director of Harvest Health. It was sold to the controversial Multi-State Operator (MSO) cannabis corporation Trulieve. Aaron Epstein, who was a senior executive for Garden State Dispensary, which the MSO Ayr owns, is also a partner. They are a new company with no locations.
Story Dispensary Hearing
During the over three-and-a-half-hour meeting, Planning Board Chair Frank Magaletta read a letter from County Engineer Thomas Malavasi regarding a proposed loading zone.
“The City of Hoboken Department of Transportation & Planning has contacted the County Engineer’s office regarding the inclusion of a loading zone on 14th Street at the intersection of Hudson Street. There are currently no loading zones on this block,” Malavasi wrote. “The County of Hudson Engineering Department is in agreement with the assessment and recommendation of the City of Hoboken’s Department of Transportation & Planning that a loading space be designated at the southwest corner of 14th and Hudson Streets to serve the commercial uses in that area.”
Noting that the county has recently worked with the city to have loading zones approved on Garden, Hudson, and Newark Streets, Hudson County recommended a consenting ordinance for a Board of County Commissioners vote.
Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher expressed concerns about upwards of 50 people expecting to go into the dispensary at once, leading to possible overcrowding at their location at 51 14th St.
“You designed for the building and not necessarily the volume of customers coming through,” she said.
Hoboken Planning Board Meeting Drags
“We’re getting into commentary,” Story Dispensary attorney Lauren Tardanico objected.
“All the employees wouldn’t be in the dispensary,” Story Dispensary architect Michael Tormey said. He also pointed out that there would be at most six on the floor with customers, while the others would be in the back offices.
“I don’t know what a realistic number would be in the waiting room. It’s designed to hold 55 people,” he added.
Fisher asserted that this would facilitate excessively large crowds before other speakers vocalized their concerns.
“What is the width of the door on 14th?” Robert Verthelyi asked.
“It’s at least 36 inches wide,” Tormey answered.
“How many retailers have nine registers, and what sort of traffic to justify nine registers?” Verthelyi continued.
“The other dispensaries have more than nine registers,” Tormey said.
Others also wondered what the volume would be like, such as Anthony Racaniello, though Tardanico objected since the question had already been asked.
Tom Brennan, who owned the space when it was the Hudson Tavern and sold it to Drew Nussbaum and Jaclyn Fulop, the wife of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, also participated.
“If you were to utilize the main entrance that was, that entrance is 35 feet from the entrance of a residential building,” Brennan said, drawing an objection from Tardanico.
“Did you realize the door you’re using was going to be closer to a residential door?” Brennan rephrased.
“Yeah, that wasn’t our first choice,” Tormey replied before Brennan then asked about insulation and soundproofing.
“The plans were meant to show we were taking extra care for sound mitigation. We don’t expect this place to be a loud establishment,” the architect answered.
“The loading zone: you’re not certain if it’s on 14th or Hudson?” Brennan asked.
“Objection this was previously addressed,” Tardanico said.
Many objectors didn’t understand that the Hoboken Planning Board is run in the fashion of a law court, and they could only ask questions relevant to the architect witness. Many sought to address other issues and make arguments which led to vigorous objections from Tardanico.
Magaletta interjected that the corner of 14th and Hudson Streets was where the county indicated that the loading zone would be located.
Kristen Georges asked if the occupancy in the waiting room is 55 and 17 in the Story dispensary, which Tormey confirmed.
Cannabis Dispensary Design Questions
“Why then have nine POS (Point of Sale) systems? Because if you have them all manned, you can’t have another nine customers at each of the POS,” she said.
“You can have them ring up two transactions at once. It’s possible to have one person manning two customers,” Tormey responded.
Nicole Amato noted that Tormey had never designed a dispensary in an area as urban as Hoboken and asked if he had considered using bulletproof glass. He said he had not, and if children lived above the dispensary, which he said he was aware of.
Activist Manuel Rivera asked if the Story dispensary would be accessible to people with disabilities.
“Is there any space there dedicated to people with a disability?” Rivera asked.
Tormey replied that one counter is designed to be handicap accessible.
Francis Dixon said he received a note about the loading zone and wanted an answer about its location, prompting Magaletta to again note it would be on the corner.
“The applicant … is willing to expand the gradient screening,” Tardanico said.
“I don’t know that you want this facility to be a bar where the windows are completely dark,” Councilman at Large Jim Doyle, who sits on the board, said.
“We can look into it more,” Tardanico responded
Magaletta adjourned the meeting at 10:30 p.m., noting that the traffic consultant and planner still must testify and that a public comment period needs to occur at the meeting next week.