Is Tuckerton Blazing Trail for Cannabis in Southern Ocean County?

Is Tuckerton Blazing Trail for Cannabis in Southern Ocean County?

At Tuckerton borough’s Feb. 6 council meeting, Councilman Keith Vreeland mentioned the borough was in the beginning of discussions regarding business zoning, with some residents in attendance ready to voice their support and concerns for the possibility of commercial cannabis.

Pine Beach resident Candace Johnson returned after initially introducing herself during the Dec. 19 council meeting, and making an appearance at the Jan. 19 land use board meeting to lobby in support of cannabis.

“I understand that the borough will be considering an ordinance over the next two meetings to opt in for cannabis, so I’m here tonight to voice my support for that ordinance, and to advocate for my company, Jersey Shore Extracts LLC, as the right group to bring a dispensary here in a responsible way.”

Jersey Shore Extracts is a conditionally licensed cannabis retailer seeking borough approval. Johnson and her partner are both county residents with 20 years of combined experience managing busy retail companies, she shared.

“As parents we also know the importance, in safety and security, of keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors,” she continued. With that in mind, she explained, one of their team members is head of security at a local medical facility as well as a Marine Corps veteran.

“While there are, understandably, some reservations about cannabis coming to Tuckerton, we strongly feel that it can bring many benefits to the borough.”

The first benefit she cited is the 2% of all sales in the dispensary’s tax revenue that Tuckerton would receive. According to Johnson, a conservative estimate for annual revenue would be $3 million, “but especially in the early stages of the market, before all other towns opt in, we have realistic annual projections of $5 million to $6 million, which would mean an annual revenue for Tuckerton of $60,000 to $120,000.”

She warned the borough, “Cannabis is coming,” estimating about half a decade before dispensaries are as commonplace as liquor stores. Even if the borough chooses not to opt in, she continued, it cannot prevent the delivery of cannabis to its residents. “Why not take advantage of the early market while the retail prices are at their highest?”

In addition to tax revenue, Johnson said an additional benefit is the fact that the micro-business would be required to hire borough residents, potentially creating up to 10 living-wage jobs for the community.

“And with our required community impact measures, we could support causes such as helping the terrapin turtle or Conserve Wildlife Foundation, or create a grant program for dredging to help alleviate local assessments.”

Finally, she concluded, the business would serve to occupy a currently vacant property and help bring traffic to surrounding businesses.

Applause following her brief presentation implied that at least some residents are in favor of what possibilities cannabis retail could bring to Tuckerton.

Environmental commission chair Kaylyn Ullman piggybacked off Johnson to advocate for cannabis in Tuckerton, reiterating the fact that only five towns in New Jersey allow it. She cited the recent increase in taxes and recalled previous meetings wherein Borough Clerk Jenny Gleghorn had said the town is too small for big corporations to bring business. “(Cannabis) can help alleviate that, and believe me when I tell you if we did that (permitted sale of cannabis), it would alleviate a lot. So keep that in mind, and keep an open mind.”

In related news, Gary Corriero of South Green Street also spoke during public forum to oppose the site of the former Tuckerton Beach Grill as a potential location for a dispensary. He inquired about what process the council is taking, in terms of legal logistics, in its exploration into cannabis.

“The cannabis industry has been around for a while. It is here. … But it’s also, compared to alcohol and tobacco, in its infancy stages,” he emphasized. As such, he continued, decisions regarding public sale of cannabis should be made mindfully. “I know quite often we say the (Tuckerton) Beach area is zoned commercial … but it’s embedded within a very large residential area, and I ask that those things be taken into consideration.”

While not opposed to cannabis, Corriero expressed the belief that everyone should be involved in the process, and that process should be undertaken prudently.

Vreeland elaborated the process for Corriero. “Initially … the council discusses through legislation and the legislative committee the process of approving business use of cannabis.” The next step, he continued, is to look from a land use perspective, taking state legislation into consideration, which of the three business zones is most appropriate for a cannabis business. For example, it would not be placed in a school zone. Some businesses, Vreeland explained, are permitted in residential zones, while some are not, and would require a variance.

“In this instance, even if we approved the business use, someone could still come and say, ‘I’d like to do it at the (site of the) Tuckerton Beach Grill,’ but they would have to apply for a variance if it was not a permitted use in that zone.”

Vreeland concluded that it would take time to get approvals and decide the appropriate place for such a business.

Corriero asked for transparency with residents ahead of legislation. “Obviously there’s a lot of open storefronts right now, within a strictly commercial area. Personally, I would advocate for that as opposed to putting it into a – granted – business area within a residential neighborhood.”

In other news, Mayor Sue Marshall introduced an ordinance in support of Assembly Bill 3535 and Senate Bill 2449 encouraging the state Legislature to pass legislation increasing funding for the Dedicated Jersey Shore Protection Fund. The proposed bills would increase funding from $25 million to $50 million. “So, that’s us,” Marshall affirmed. “The beaches, the back bay and the shorelines. So we want to support it.”

Vreeland introduced a resolution to prohibit the feeding of wildlife within the borough. The resolution follows complaints regarding the ever-growing feral cat population, as well as feeding of sea gulls. The provision prohibits the feeding of pigeons, sea gulls, raccoons, foxes and any other wild animals, including feral cats and dogs. The second reading will take place on Feb. 21, where the public is invited to comment.

During public forum, Ullman asked if the wildlife ordinance applies to feeding birds. Vreeland clarified that there is an exception for feeding wild birds, via bird feeders, on private property.

Carrie Skeie,of Heritage Way also spoke to complain about people loitering in the retention basin behind her home. Some time ago, she explained, a resolution had been passed prohibiting trespassing in that basin except for those doing maintenance work on it. Since then, however, the community was taken over by Ryan Homes, which advertised the basin as a park.

“In the beginning it was not an issue. People would walk their dogs here and there; kids would sled here and there. But in time, it has become an issue.” The issue is not so much about people passing through, but about recreating, picnicking, driving trucks and ATVs, golfing and drinking. “It’s like a live-in front of a public playground or park.”

Making matters worse is the recent clearing for the construction of housing complexes across from the Grapevine Restaurant, on Route 9. Although construction has not begun, she complained there is new foot traffic coming into her neighborhood from Route 9.

Furthermore, Skeie said people have been driving through or around the gate to enter the development via the emergency access road, which is permitted only for emergency personnel. She has observed people utilizing the access road late at night, and even the trading of backpacks, suggesting illegal activity taking place between developments.

Marshall promised to talk to the chief of police and see what measures could be taken to alleviate Skeie’s concerns.

The housing being built across from the Grapevine, according to Gleghorn, will be 12 duplex units and one community building, but it has not been specified whether the community would be restricted to a particular demographic (such as low income, 55 and older, or veterans, as was initially discussed some years back).

Councilman Brian Martin announced a clothing drive fundraiser will be held by the Tuckerton Elementary School sixth-graders from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 11. They are accepting men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, shoes, hats, belts, ties, handbags, coats, jackets, wallets, dresses, suits, bed and bath linens, stuffed animals and jewelry.

— Monique M. Demopoulos

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