Friday, July 12, 2024

Cannabis Hearing Starts, Stalls; Will Resume in August

Hearings to determine if a cannabis farm can be established on Route 94 in Frelinghuysen got out of the starting gate Monday, but didn’t extend much beyond that after attorneys for the applicant, One Faith Wellness, requested a month’s postponement 45 minutes into the July 1 meeting of the land use board.

Before a packed house, Michael Selvaggi, the attorney for One Faith Wellness, which is proposing an indoor cannabis cultivation farm on a portion of a 30-acre parcel along the north end of Route 94, asked for the continuance to address issues related to the legally mandated notification of residents living within 200 feet of the proposed site.

Residents chat during a recess at the Land Use Board meeting July 1. Photo by Joe Phalon.
Residents chat during a recess at the land use board meeting July 1. Photo by Joe Phalon.
Site plan submitted by One Faith Wellness. Route 94 is on the bottom. Newton is to the right and Blairstown is to the left. Photo by Joe Phalon.
Site plan submitted by One Faith Wellness. Route 94 is on the bottom. Newton is to the right and Blairstown is to the left. Photo by Joe Phalon.

“To the extent that we can clean it up, we want to make it consistent with the revised plans,” Selvaggi said.

Roger Thomas, an attorney representing the Concerned Citizens of Frelinghuysen, said that the notices distributed previously did not reach all the required parties, and also that the notice did not sufficiently describe the scope of the project. Although the decision was solely the land use board’s to make, Thomas said he was agreeable to the delay.

Thomas suggested that if the initial notification was not sufficient, any eventual approval could be subject to an appeal by opponents of the project “and we’ll all just end up right back here at the beginning again.”

The attorneys also hoped to resolve the other major issue that came up during the abbreviated hearing—a disagreement over the definition of what a school is.

While concerns have been aired about the proximity to the site of Frelinghuysen Elementary School—the structures of the cannabis farm and the school building are separated by more than 2,000 feet, which would likely be a permissible distance—Thomas brought Yellow Frame Presbyterian Church and its Sunday school into the mix.

The church building is less than 1,000 feet from the proposed structures, and Thomas asserted that the Sunday school meets the definition of a school for the purposes of the One Faith Wellness application.

“A school is a school is a school. It’s that simple,” Thomas said.

Selvaggi disagreed, saying a Sunday school is not licensed by the state of New Jersey.

“A school that meets once a week? I can’t believe we are spending time on this,” Selvaggi said.

After the meeting Selvaggi added, “Sunday school does not provide elementary or high school education and is not licensed by the state. I don’t want to be dismissive of it, but I don’t think legally that’s really a very strong argument.”

Kirk Perez, a vocal critic of the proposal who won the Republican nomination for the township committee as a write-in candidate largely on the issue, said he agreed the postponement was beneficial as he also felt that not enough residents are aware of the extent of the proposal.

“This is a very big situation,” Perez said. “We’re not discussing whether or not a barn could be built. We’re talking about marijuana.”

The hearing is scheduled to resume at the next land use board meeting on August 7 at 7 p.m. at the township recreation center on Lincoln Laurel Road. As always, meetings and hearings are always subject to change so check the township website at frelinghuysen-nj.us/ for updated information and agendas.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.