Once again, Jersey City lawmakers agreed Wednesday to put off, at least until September 7, changing the rules governing the regulation of local cannabis enterprises pending further deliberation but, in the meantime, endorsed applications for five new retail shops.

The City Council also voted to withdraw, for now, consideration of a letter of support for a 360-unit private development at 701 Newark Ave., of which 72 would be reserved as affordable housing, financed via federal low-income tax credits. But there would be no on-site parking – which irked most of the council.

And, despite an objection voiced by a neighborhood group representative, the council voted 8-1 to renew a license agreement with the city Board of Education to grant Public School 16 students access to the southwest corner of Paulus Hook Park during select hours. Only Ward B Councilmember Mira Prinz-Arey dissented “out of respect for the wishes of the community.”

Cannabis

On the cannabis front, Council President Joyce Watterman said the consensus among the lawmakers was to “bring this back because we still want more conversation” around the issues being raised by long-waiting local applicants over the city’s current review procedures and how the proposed changes could affect them.

“We’ll carry it to the next meeting,” agreed city business administrator John Metro.

During the public portion of the meeting, several speakers who are in the cannabis review pipeline worried that newcomers to the process would gain an unfair advantage allowing regulators to use a “holistic” approach instead of hard and fast rules about how close cannabis shops can be to a competitor, for example.

They also worried that “out-of-towners” backing proposed cannabis retail businesses tend to have access to the financing required to satisfy the fees assessed by the city for each stage of the review process, along with the cost of leasing property to support a new venture.

Jared Pollard, a principal of Chilltown Dispensary LLC, a cannabis retail shop proposed for 324 ½ Central Ave., (and approved Wednesday) said his team has already spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars on lawyers and other expenses “just to get to this point.”

By the end of its meeting, the council voted to support applications submitted by Neon Heights LLC, for 535 Newark Ave.; Lifted Vision, LLC, for 481 Central Ave.; Lady L. Cannabis LLC, for 547 West Side Ave.; Kush Kub LLC, for 550-560 Tonnelle Ave.; and Chilltown.

Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano was the lone dissenter on each while Watterman, due to a conflict of interest, abstained.

Two other applications submitted by Kushmart Jersey LLC, for 1521 Kennedy Boulevard, and Bud Space LLC, for 270 Newark Ave., were withdrawn.

Development at 701 Newark Ave.

Largely at the behest of Boggiano, the council voted unanimously to withdraw a “resolution of need” it was asked to pass sought by the prospective developer of the project pitched for 701 Newark Ave. to apply for a 4% Aspire federal low-income housing tax credit to help finance the affordable housing portion.

“I’m 100% behind affordable housing,” the Journal Square representative said, “but it’s despicable how Journal Square has been treated …. There’s no parking for the public. They took away the parking lots on Baldwin and Summit avenues. Little India is a horror show. Businesses like Moloney’s have closed because there’s no parking. Now we’re losing 45 spaces at 701 Newark Ave. The people in Ward C are tired of this. The city engineers say that curb cuts for Newark Avenue aren’t encouraged. That’s B.S. There’s been a curb cut at (701 Newark Ave.) for 40 years and there’s never been any serious accidents there.”

Charles Harrington, an attorney working with the developer, said original plans for a hotel at the site, whose footprint was to have extended onto Cottage St., called for two levels of parking but, with the current plan, the size of the site shrunk and the (city) engineers now frown on parking there.

Still, Metro said, the developer “is looking for alternative parking.”

“Where is he looking?” Watterman asked. “There’s no parking in that area. Businesses are going to close down. We keep passing (development projects) with no parking. It’s out of control.”

Ward F Councilmember Frank Gilmore interjected: “With all the technology out there, there’s got to be a way to include parking.” He got no response.

Councilmember-at-large Amy Degise added: “Affordable housing should be predicated on providing parking.”

Only Ward E Councilmember James Solomon offered a defense of the project, saying, “It’s been a long time since this ward has had any (new) affordable housing.” It would be unfortunate, he added, if the city were to lose this opportunity to fill that gap and the “union jobs” that the developer has pledged to use on the project.

But, in the end, Watterman advised Harrington that the council intended to “bring this back so you can have another conversation with the developer” to include parking as part of the overall plan.

Paulus Hook Park

As for the Paulus Hook Park issue, Diane Kaese, president of the Historic Paulus Hook Association, urged the council to turn down the request by School 16 to have “exclusive use” of the park at Sussex and Grand streets during school hours, at no cost, and to allow the public access at all other times “for the duration of the 2023-2024 normal school year.”

Kaese called the agreement “inappropriate” and unfair to the Paulus Hook neighborhood whose population she estimated at 50,000 and growing. “The playground is used by all the residents,” she said, “not just the school.”

But School 16 Principal Terry Watkins-Williams countered that the area “provides safe play for the children during school hours …. We don’t have (the advantage) of a courtyard like other schools in the city.” She said more than 1,000 students make use of the facility.

Solomon called the agreement a “compromise” situation where “we give the public as much access as we can.” Watterman said: “We need to keep the kids safe but the Board of Education needs to come up with a solution to this situation next year.” Gilmore agreed, adding, “At some point, we can’t keep doing one-year renewals.”

A&C Bus Line issues

In other business, the council called on state and county leaders and NJ Transit to “take any and all immediate action necessary” to ensure that the service provided on four routes run by A&C Bus Corp. – No. 30/Society Hill, No. 31/Montgomery/West Side, No. 32/440 Shopper and No. 33/Bergen Avenue – continue operating.

Lawsuit Settlements

Almost unnoticed, the council quietly voted to pay out a total of $1,190,000 in legal settlements arising from lawsuits filed against the city and/or its agents.

The settlements call for payments of:

  • $550,000 to Mark Sanders in connection with injuries he allegedly suffered March 15, 2020, at Kennedy Boulevard and Danforth Avenue in an accident involved an unmarked police car driven by a city police officer.
  • $500,000 to city employee Sabrina Harrold who alleged she was a victim of hostile work environment and retaliation. The original complaint was filed June 2020.
  • $85,000 to Vanessa Gross, a city Fire Department employee, who filed a discrimination complaint against the city in February 2018.
  • $55,000 to Sabrina Pagan who alleged the city’s agents were “negligent in their response to an emergency call for assistance, causing her pain and suffering” during an incident on May 13, 2018.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...