Recreational Cannabis, Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Discussed by Council in Conference Session
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. — Two proclamations and two different conference sessions, one on an ordinance proposed by the Environmental Commission on Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and the second on what to do, if anything, about the sale, delivery, cultivation and use of cannabis in town, now that it is legal for recreational use. These items took up almost 90 minutes of last week’s meeting of the Township Council.
The proclamations came first. The mayor and council honored Maurice Gawrgy, owner of the Station House Cafe, with a proclamation, celebrating his 31 years cooking for and serving township residents, as he prepares to retire on Friday, April 30. Gawrgy’s daughter brought her father to the Zoom meeting, by FaceTiming him on her phone, so he could hear the proclamation read. A man of few words, he simply said “Thank you guys.”
The mayor and council proclaimed April “Autism Awareness Month,” and urged “all employees and residents to become better educated about autism and create a better community for individuals with autism.
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Electric Vehicle Charging
Environmental Commission member Kim Diamond led the first conference session. Diamond said the township is at the point where it can “lead other municipalities” by adopting a forward-looking ordinance that will improve the atmosphere and reduce both the climate and health impacts of air pollution. She used a slide presentation in her talk which emphasized the ways in which climate change is impacted by the use of non-electric vehicles. She said the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs) would directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes and fueling vehicles, and indirectly, by cutting the amount of petroleum taken from the ground, refining the same into gasoline and taking the gasoline to gas stations.
Governor Phil Murphy signed into law comprehensive legislation which includes a goal of having 330,000 EVs registered by 2025 and of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
With that as background, Diamond described a proposed ordinance that is similar to one already adopted by Morris Township, which would “future proof” new construction and significant renovations, by requiring builders to install wire conduits which would allow the installation of charging stations at a later date. The ordinance would also set sign requirements, ADA accessibility regulations and other details, including how long one could park at a charging station, once it is set up. The stations would be either Level 1, Level 2 (which run on alternating current, AC) and DC FC, high speed charging stations, which run on direct current DC). The ordinance proposed by the Environmental Commission has been vetted by Sustainable Jersey.
In answer to Councilman Alvaro Medeiros’ question on whether the ordinance was ready to be presented to the township attorney, Diamond said almost — It still requires a few “minor tweaks.” The ordinance is part of the agenda on the township’s website.
She said the township engineer “also suggested grandfathering EV charging stations in,” as part of the ordinance.
Council President Jeanne Kingsley questioned if the ordinance were to be passed in the next few months, will it apply to already approved developments?
Diamond said, it would not, it would apply only to “projects and new builds that begin after the ordinance is approved.”
Kingsley said the cost for installing the conduits should go to the developer, and suggested “the Economic Development Committee should be thinking of how to attract more cars to the town to charge.”
Diamond again said the township has the opportunity to be a first mover in this area … to develop “an ordinance most of the municipalities will want to do.”
Councilman Jeff Varnerin said he prefers “market conditions driving the need” rather than the “town mandating” the installation.
Diamond argued that by being proactive and requiring charging stations be installed in new developments, everyone involved will save money and aggravation. Having the conduits run into the parking lot to a charging area, means parking lots don’t need to be dug up when an owner decides they are needed.
Resident John Sincaglia asked what people with EVs do now?
Mayor Angie Devanney said, “They use a garage outlet.”
Kingsley said friends of her who have “Teslas have a rapid charger installed in their garage.”
Steve Carrellas said there is definitely a pending need for EV charging systems. He added, “We need to make it easier for people to install Level 2 chargers” in their homes because most EVs go 150-180 miles on a single charge.
The state is planning to put out a model ordinance, which the township might want to wait for, Carrellas said. As for whether Berkeley Heights, which is just off of Interstate 78, wants to “encourage long distance drivers to charge up in Berkeley Heights,” Carrellas said “It doesn’t make sense.’
Dr. Tom Foregger said, “I urge this ordinance not be introduced at any time,” because it would violate the rights of individual property owners.
Margaret Illis thanked the Environmental Commission for putting this forward. Electric vehicles are coming, if Berkeley Heights does nothing, “New Providence will end up with charging stations. I would hate for our downtown to be left behind.
During the conference session on recreational marijuana, Township Attorney Chris Corsini provided some background on where the state and its municipalities stand in relation to recreational marijuana. The town has until August 21 “to take whatever action you want to do … After that you are locked in for five years,” he said.
“Take action” he said means the township has the ability to ban one or more of the six categories of production and sale of recreational marijuana. The governing body can choose to have sales in town, regulate the hours, location and manner in which those sales are conducted and whether there will be cultivation of marijuana and where it can be grown. Parts of these regulations “extend into the land use code,” he said. As for how various permits and the rules governing a license to operate a dispensary, or grow marijuana, etc., “that is superimposed over all of this, the state is now undertaking” the details of that, he said.
People may be surprised to learn the clean air act allows for the enforcement of bans on outdoor use, Corsini said. In the long run, municipalities are not allowed to ban the use of cannabis.
The six categories which municipalities have the ability to regulate are:
1. Growing, cultivation;
2. Processing, manufacturing and packaging facilities;
4. Businesses involved in transporting cannabis in bulk to other licensed vendors.;
5. Retailing of cannabis items to the consumers themselves;
6. Cannabis delivery to consumers.
The municipality can tax the activities up to two percent on everything but wholesaling, which is one percent, Corsini said. That has to be set up by the municipality itself, in a way similar to property taxes, he said.
The municipality “can opt out right now and later opt in, after the deadline,” he said.
Police Chief Massimino reminded everyone that “simple possession of under six ounces (of marijuana) is legal as is simple possession of 17 grams or fewer of Hash, for those who are 21 years of age or older. It is no longer a crime to be driving under the influence of marijuana, and “not handing over paraphernalia is not a crime anymore, if you are using it for marijuana and hash,” he said
As for juveniles, if someone is under the age of 18 and gets caught with more than six ounces of marijuana, they get a written warning, then the parents are warned. There is a scale, which can lead to community service on the third time someone under 18 is picked up, he said.
The mayor asked “what is the mechanism for vehicle stops.”
The Police Chief said, there can be a field sobriety testing, but there is “no equivalent of a breathalyzer,” for marijuana or hash.
Councilman Stephen Yellin said then as he understood it “the difference between DWI under 18 and Pot,” is the parents get a written warning for Pot.
Residents also had a chance to question the attorney and present their own opinions of the process.
Resident Margaret Illis said she was “a little dismayed to hear council members suggesting putting “opt out on all six categories.” She said the township needs the tax revenues and “needs to look at what we want.” Contrary to what many think, “dispensaries are not where drug addicts hang out,” she said, cautioning the town to “Be careful before six or seven people decide what is good for the town.”
Mayor Devanney said there will be a “conference with the planner” and do another presentation on cannabis. “I wanted to begin with our chief” of police.
Councilman Stephen Yellin reminded everyone there was a statewide referendum and “65% of this community voted to legalize cannabis.” This is an issue “where public input is needed,” so residents should have input before the council makes a decision on what to do.
Illis said the public can’t help make a collective decision, “when we don’t have the information you had in advance” of the meeting. She also pointed out the only towns she heard about from the mayor, council and chief “were towns that said “No” to having cannabis in their towns.
Kingsley pointed out there were “draft ordinances” on the subject.
Couto said the council has “until August 21 to make a decision.”
Resident Julie Lloyd was clear, “I don’t want dispensaries, growers … nothing in my town. I would vote 100 percent against this again … Marijuana is a gateway drug.”
Resident John Sincaglia asked what happens if the town opts to do nothing.
Corsini said, “If you do nothing, you can’t opt out for five years.”
Sincaglia said, “as long as we can opt out then back in, I don’t see why we don’t just opt out.”
Todd Najarian called this a “unique issue” for New Jersey. He pointed out that Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2012 and the “surplus from taxes is significant.” He said he thought it was important to understand what kind of revenue Berkeley Heights and that state could acquire from taxation. “My personal feeling is they could be quite significant.” He predicted if the township chooses not to participate in some aspects of the program., people are going to drive fifteen, maybe thirty minutes to purchase cannabis products and “the revenues will go somewhere else.”
Pamela Stanley said she agreed with Najarian, and challenged the township to think as progressively about cannabis as it does about EVs and charging stations, “Be progressive.”
Vic Martinez asked if permits will be limited the way liquor licenses are?
Corsini said “There will be a finite number of them … People won’t be going to (Municipal Clerk) Ana for renewals every year, they’ll go to the state.”
Jenny Gow had the last comment which she sent in by email. “Our town does not need cannabis.”