Last night we had a Council meeting. Here are the updates.
I am going to start with the last conversation of the evening - cannabis. Last night the Council had a conversation regarding our thought process on legalizing a cannabis dispensary in Verona and where that dispensary would be zoned. I encourage you to watch this portion of the meeting (about 2 hr, 30 min into the meeting). We actually had agreement, and voted 5-0, to draft a zoning ordinance to allow for one dispensary in the RR Zone (which is where Pilgrim Plaza is located on Pompton).
Does this mean that we are definitely moving forward with zoning cannabis in this one zone? Not necessarily. First - some of my peers said they could not make a firm decision on whether or not they want to move forward without seeing an actual zoning ordinance, so the support for zoning cannabis is not definitive. In addition, it was suggested by one of my peers that we consider a non-binding voter referendum on this issue - to ask the public specifically if the voters want retail cannabis in Verona. After much back and forth real-time at the meeting, we realized that this suggestion is too late to put on the ballot for the May 9th Town Council Election, so instead would need to be on the ballot in November. That is 11 months from now.
I will recap some points I made last night. From the beginning, I stated that the revenue opportunity from a cannabis retail dispensary ($180K to $240K from 2% local sales tax plus a substantial annual fee) required this type to business to be analyzed seriously. We have a lot of investment we need to make in necessary capital projects in Verona - renovation or replacement of three first responder buildings, including the police station, analysis and likely replacement of big sections of our stormwater system, and renovation of several recreation facilities that are long overdue and necessary from a safety perspective. Just as these projects are hitting, our revenue growth has stalled out - we have no significant re-investment projects on the horizon that will significantly grow tax revenue (for those of you that may point to Spectrum development - we won't likely see any funds from the project until close to 2030 and all of the PILOT fees there are allocated to offset the significant costs to build the 95 unit affordable housing near the Community Center). In my view, we need to be seriously consider cannabis as a way to grow revenue significantly and therefore reduce future tax increases that will occur due to these necessary capital projects.
My focus is anticipating what the negative impacts would be to allow a dispensary in Verona based on the expert advice we received. Traffic and adequate parking are two significant issues that have been experienced by other NJ retail dispensaries in Essex County. In my opinion, this is why the RR zone works. I have also heard a reluctance in the community to zone a dispensary near schools, which eliminates Town Center as an option and much of the Extended Town Center zone. Last night from one of my peers stated that zoning a dispensary where a residential home abuts to the facility was of serious concern to him, which is why, for him, zoning it for some of the properties on Pompton would be a concern to him. The RR zone then appears to be the best, and only, choice to zone retail cannabis with this current governing body.
Therefore, zoning retail cannabis in Verona is proceeding, though very slowly. I highly encourage residents to voice their thoughts on this matter - especially after reviewing the meeting - to members of Council by emailing us here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform. I want to point out that not one member of the public made a comment last night on our discussion other than the resident looking to start a retail cannabis dispensary in Verona. It is really (really!) hard to make this decision without feedback.
There was other key business that happened last night. We introduced a bunch of ordinances. For feedback on any of these ordinances, please email the Council.
The first ordinance is a state-mandated ordinance to encourage electric vehicle supply and service equipment and make ready electric vehicle parking spaces. This mainly applies to new development. This is a zoning ordinance, so it will go to the Planning Board for a consistency review with our Master Plan.
The second ordinance establishes a joint flood committee with Cedar Grove. Cedar Grove should be passing the same ordinance. This joint flood committee will allow us to apply for projects to the DEP together to mitigate flooding issues due to the Peckman and will help us with applying for grants.
The third ordinance was a 2023 salary ordinance for part time employees. This ordinance is necessary to set the part time salary for several positions and to comply with minimum wage.
The fourth ordinance is to regulate block parties. This ordinance sets a fee for a permit ($35), and timeframe (14 days) to apply for the permit. It also clarifies some rules on what is allowed and not allowed during a block party. If you typically attend or organize a block party, I encourage you to give this ordinance a review.
Last night under resolutions we passed many standard tax and financial ordinances that we typically do at the start of the year. We also authorized agreements with most of our qualified private communities, reappointed Brian Aloia as our Township Attorney, set a Public Agency Compliance Officer, and established the official newspapers of the Township.
In addition to the cannabis conversation, we had a substantial conversation on the changes being made to the tree ordinance. I am still waiting for a financial analysis on what this new tree evaluation process will cost, and how the permit fee will mitigate those costs. We agreed to introduce this ordinance at our first meeting in February.
In New Business, we also had a conversation on how to make our meetings shorter. This conversation was largely driven by one of my peers. I will have more to say on this in the future - but I will put this question out there to residents. What changes could the Council make that would engage you to attend or at least watch the Town Council meetings? I would love to know your thoughts.
As always - you can send your comments to the entire Council on any matter discussed (or really anything) by using the following form: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.