Mayors Bhalla, Fulop Come Under Scrutiny For Pot Dispensary in Hoboken;Facing Resident Backlash Over Cannabis Location

Hoboken residents are calling Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his administration to stop the approval of an outsized cannabis dispensary from opening in the center of one of the most densely populated residential areas in New Jersey.

The proposed 6,000 square-foot, high-volume, cannabis retail shop would be operated under the name Story Dispensary of Hoboken LLC and would be located in a residential building on 14th Street. The city Planning Board is scheduled to hear Story’s application on Thursday, June 9 at 7 pm.

“The quality-of-life implications to Hoboken residents in this neighborhood are enormous,” said Glenn Nelson, who lives in a building across from the proposed dispensary. “When you see the long lines and big parking lots filled with cars at dispensaries on busy commercial roads elsewhere in the state, you think “‘how could this possibly fit in this tight, residential corner of Hoboken.’”

The administration says it plans to license six dispensaries in the city.

Lenore Vanden Handel, a 35-year resident of the community, said approval of a dispensary in a residential neighborhood on 14th Street would set a bad precedent for Hoboken. “The Bhalla Administration must think carefully about where to place these dispensaries in our small city so that we don’t adversely harm residential neighborhoods throughout the town.”

“The administration’s approach of ‘let’s grant a permit for Story and let’s see what happens’ is not a strategy. Our elected officials should demand the applicant withdraw its application,” added Vanden Handel.

POLITICS AT WORK

Not only is the 14th Street site a bad location for a cannabis shop, say the residents, but the approval process is mired in political deal making to benefit one of the most powerful politicians in Hudson County – Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Story Dispensary will lease space from a commercial property recently purchased by Fulop’s wife Jaclyn, and her business partner Drew Nussbaum, who are co-owners of Exchange Physical Therapy.

The citizens’ group says the Story application process has lacked transparency and community input – an indication of the political favoritism tied to the permit. They are also questioning what appears to be the sham ownership structure of the company and a veiled attempt to satisfy the social equity mandate the state imposed for licensing cannabis dispensaries.

“I don’t think we are being unreasonable in asking the city to deny the Story application,” said Roberto Verthelyi, a resident living in a neighboring building. “All we want is for Hoboken officials to run Hoboken for Hoboken residents; not for the mayor of Jersey City.”
“Every step of the way, there have been thumbs on the scale favoring Mayor Fulop’s interest with a total disregard for the surrounding neighborhood which has spoken loudly against the dispensary.” added Verthelyi.

Samantha Silva is listed as the CEO of Story, but she has no experience in the business. When asked at the local Cannabis Review Board hearing why she selected the 14th Street location she said: “I was offered an opportunity and I took it.” When asked to explain the opportunity, she said: “I don’t have to disclose that.” Her testimony can be heard at: https://www.no14thstreetdispensary.com

The three person Hoboken Cannabis Review Board, made up of Hoboken elected officials and members of the Bhalla Administration handed the dispensary its first approval in February, after four hours of testimony from residents who opposed it.

Traffic and Safety Concerns

“The administration is making decisions about where and how many dispensaries there will be — many in residential areas and near schools — without public input or proper traffic and visitor studies. I’d like the city to slow down the process before more mistakes are made that can’t be turned around. The location of the Story dispensary on 14th Street is too densely populated and too close to Pier 13 for such a high traffic establishment,” said Sue Keenan.

“Our neighborhood does not deserve the increased traffic and congestion and what will be significant competition for scarce street parking that a dispensary of this magnitude and in this location will bring to this already congested area,” she added.

Neighborhood resident Elizabeth Urtecho, said the Story dispensary approval would contradict Mayor Bhalla’s 2019 executive order that created the Vision Zero safety campaign that seeks to reduce traffic and eliminate injuries and fatalities.

“Mayor Bhalla needs to stand by his commitment to Vision Zero and put a stop to this dispensary that will put more impaired drivers on our streets, increasing the risks to everyone who lives in and visits our community,” said Urtecho.

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