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Bedminster Bans Marijuana Businesses

Jul 12, 2021

BEDMINSTER TWP. – After devoting far more time to the issue than its Somerset Hills neighbors, the Township Committee became the last of the five governing bodies to adopt a ban on marijuana-related businesses on Tuesday, July 6.

Some towns prohibited marijuana uses “within a couple weeks,” Mayor Larry Jacobs said moments after the vote. He said that in contrast, the committee brought in experts, attended talks and reviewed the issue with township boards and local residents.

“We took a little bit more of a deliberate approach than some other towns,” Jacobs added. “It may have irritated some folks that we didn’t move instinctively or reflexively. But I think that what we did was appropriate. We wanted to give it consideration and we wanted to hear from others.”

Towns across New Jersey have been reacting to state legislation, signed into law on Feb. 22, that legalized recreational marijuana while giving towns until Aug. 21 to “opt out” of allowing marijuana businesses within their borders.

If a town does not “opt out” by Aug. 21, it would be required to permit such businesses for the next five years.

Municipalities have the right to prohibit the cultivation, manufacture, wholesaling, retailing and distribution of marijuana, as well as marijuana shops. The one thing they can’t stop is the delivery of out-of-town marijuana to local homes.

In the other Somerset Hills towns, elected officials decided early on that marijuana businesses were not in the interests of their community.

The Bernardsville Borough Council and the Far Hills Borough Council each adopted a ban on April 12, followed by the Bernards Township Committee on May 25 and the Peapack-Gladstone Borough Council on June 15.

The public hearing in Far Hills drew comments from five out-of-town residents who opposed the ban. But none of the governing bodies heard opposition from their own constituents. The Bedminster Township Committee probed the issue more deeply. In its meetings between April and June, its discussions of the marijuana law added up to more than four hours, including a two-hour presentation by the township’s legal counsel.

As the committee prepared to hold its public hearing, Jacobs said the state has formed a commission that will devise regulations for how marijuana businesses will operate. But he said those regulations are unlikely to be in place before the Aug. 21 opt-out deadline.”So to some extent you’ll be flying blind,” the mayor remarked. He said that in seeking community feedback, “there does seem to be a consensus that until the regulations are in place, it’s appropriate for Bedminster to opt out.”

Other committee members agreed.

“We’d be irresponsible to permit something that we have no idea what we’re permitting,” said Committeeman Doug Stevinson. He called the ban “a no-brainer.”

During the public hearing, Paige Nielsen, youth engagement coordinator for Bernardsville based Community in Crisis, a non-profit group, introduced two Ridge High students from Bernards Township.

Student Jabeen Sheikh said allowing marijuana businesses would give the false impression that the drug is not detrimental. He said it increases the risk for depression, suicide and even psychosis.

Student Maura Medenilla said youths use fake identification to illegally purchase alcohol and could be expected to do likewise at marijuana shops.

The committee went on to adopt the ban in a 4-0 vote, with Committeewoman Gina Fernandez absent.

The committee also voted to re-introduce an ordinance that would ban marijuana smoking, vaping or aerosolizing at public places like parks, shopping centers and parking lots.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, July 19.

“Our focus here is not some moral statement or judgment,” Jacobs said. “This is about the impact on third parties – the smell, second-hand smoke.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

2021 Campaign Kickoff

Join us for our 2021 Campaign Kickoff and Fundraiser on Wednesday, May 26th at 6 PM. Enjoy pizza and your first cider with a suggested donation of $40 per person. Please make checks payable to “Jacobs & Mareski 2021.” Burnt Mills Cider is located at 3540 Route 206 North, Bedminster.

More information here: Spring Cider with Larry & Renee | Facebook

Bedminster RMC Selects Jacobs and Mareski

The Bedminster Republican Municipal Committee proudly endorses Mayor Larry Jacobs and Township Committeewoman Renee Mareski for re-election to the Bedminster Township Committee. Jacobs and Mareski have provided wise and steady leadership during extraordinary times.  They safely guided the township through the pandemic while keeping our parks, Farmers Market and recreational facilities open.  They supported our local businesses by instituting policies and regulations that enabled their continued operation in the midst of the crisis.  Recognizing the economic stress placed on our community, they opened a Food Pantry to help those in need, and tailored the municipal budget to keep spending to an absolute minimum.

They have led our town through Presidential visits, protests and an economic recession, all while the eyes of the world were on Bedminster.  With more challenges ahead, including the post-COVID economy, business recovery, and our affordable housing obligations, Bedminster needs prudent, experienced and mature leadership moving forward.  Mayor Larry Jacobs and Committeewoman Renee Mareski have proven themselves to be advocates for the community, and bring with them a wealth of knowledge to ensure that Bedminster continues its tradition of excellent governance paired with an unsurpassed quality of life.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Candidate Screening

The Bedminster Republican Municipal Committee will hold their candidate’s screening via Zoom at 7pm on March 23, 2021.  The committee will be screening candidates for Township Committee and will decide on two nominees for the organization’s endorsement.  Prospective candidates who wish to be considered and members of the public who wish to attend, should contact the Bedminster RMC at info@bedminstergop.org by March 14th.

LETTER: Bedminster Committeeman Thanks Voters

EDITOR: While the results are preliminary and things could certainly change, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the residents of Bedminster for the confidence they have placed in me as reflected at the ballot box.

As is the case every October, candidates for elected office invade the physical and digital landscape. Corners are occupied with signs, Facebook feeds become filled with political advertisements and strangers knock on doors at the most inopportune times.

While these are the necessary evils of campaigning, the fact that you allow us to interrupt your daily routine is greatly appreciated and never overlooked.

This year’s election season brought with it the most anticipated Presidential election in many years, and emotions ran high on both sides of the political aisle. Despite that, the good folks of Bedminster took time out to share with me their thoughts and feedback – often with much candor – and for that I am deeply thankful.

Public service is a privilege that I do not take lightly or for granted, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to work on behalf of all our residents.

Regardless of where folks may stand on politics during these challenging times, I think every resident has a strong interest in maintaining the quality of life and low taxes that are the hallmark of Bedminster and township government. I will continue to advocate for all residents and will maintain a strong focus on tackling and resolving local issues.

I would also like to express my thanks to Jeff Beyer.  Running for office is never an easy job, and both campaigns focused on the issues in a positive and respectful manner.

Now that campaign season is over, I am eager to get back to work. What has always been paramount to me is listening to your thoughts and taking action.

I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Bedminster.

R. COLIN HICKEY
Bedminster Township Committee

Editor’s note: This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Hickey backed for ‘selfless devotion to Bedminster’

EDITOR: I write in support of Colin Hickey’s candidacy for Bedminster Township Committee.

Colin is an exceptional committee member, and he deserves re-election.

I have worked closely with Colin over the past several months as the outside attorney for Bedminster – and a consortium of other municipalities- that banded together to fight New Jersey American Water’s proposed rate increase.

Colin immediately understood the complicated issues surrounding ratemaking, and how best to counter the inflated request. With his help and leadership, N.J. American was forced to reduce its request to a small fraction of its initial demand.

Colin’s hard work, integrity and selfless devotion to the Bedminster public must be rewarded with another term.

Vote for Colin – he’s earned it.

WILLIAM K. MOSCA JR.
Smoke Rise Lane
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

EDITORIAL: Our local endorsements for Bernardsville, Bernards Township, Bedminster and Far Hills

Voters in four of the Somerset Hills towns will decide contests for municipal seats in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, general election.

Board of Education seats will also be filled in the election, but there are no contested school board races in the local communities.

In Bedminster, residents will fill one, three-year term on the Township Committee.

Republican incumbent R. Colin Hickey is seeking re-election against Democrat Jeffrey Beyer.

Beyer, a business owner, is calling for more balance on the five-member Township Committee, which is comprised all Republicans. He was critical of the committee’s recent decision to replace the Bedminster Hills Housing Corp. (BHHC), which has long managed the township’s affordable housing sales, with an outside firm, with the little advance public notification.

We agree with him on both fronts. There could be better balance on governing body, which sadly has never spoken a critical word about President Trump’s political activities in town, even following his reckless decision to attend a fund-raiser at his private club here after knowing he was exposed to the coronavirus.

And the decision to terminate the BHHC – a significant change which very well may have been the correct move – was nonetheless sprung on the community with virtually no notice and little opportunity for public input.

Regardless, Committeeman Hickey is not fully responsible for the decision and deserves another term in office based on his extensive contributions to the community.

Hickey has been an outstanding asset to the governing body, working effectively on multiple fronts.

A professional consultant, he has led the township’s effort to fight an exorbitant rate increase proposed by the New Jersey American Water company. He has also worked with JCP&L to help bring about real improvements to end power outages. Both issues directly impact a significant number of township residents.

Hickey has also lent his expertise on technology issues and been a hands-on volunteer with other community efforts, such as the establishment of a food pantry during the pandemic.

On Nov. 3, Bedminster residents should re-elect Colin Hickey to the Township Committee.

Editor’s Note: The entire article with endorsements for neighboring towns appears in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Hickey has served Bedminster ‘in exemplary fashion’

EDITOR: In 2020, despite the global pandemic and national politics dominating the headlines and our own dinner conversations, the importance of a well-run local government dedicated to serving its residents has become crystal clear. As a former longtime Mayor of Bedminster, I can assure you that Colin Hickey rises to the task – in exemplary fashion – time after time.

Here are but a few of the challenges that Colin has tackled on behalf of our local residents and businesses:

Concerned about the financial health of residents facing furlough or job loss, Colin supported deferred tax payments and a revamped municipal budget that cut spending and reduced our already low tax burden. In addition, he has been leading the fight against the usurious rate filing from New Jersey American Water, who have been seeking a double digit increase in the midst of the pandemic.

For 10 weeks, when our residents seldom left their homes, Colin ran a pop-up food pantry at the Bedminster Township Municipal Building. His grassroots approach attracted hundreds of donations and helped over 650 families put food on the table when they needed it most.

As if these challenges were not enough, Bedminster residents were hit with multiple long-lasting power outages in 2020. Colin compelled JCP&L to open lines of communication and upgrade their facilities. The improvements are already apparent, yet his tireless work continues.

In addition to helping our residents, Colin continually looks for ways to sustain local businesses. He, along with the entire Township Committee, have come up with multiple creative solutions to help them recover from the shutdown. Examples include approving temporary signage, al fresco dining, extending the Bedminster Farmers’ Market through early December and more.

Colin understands that he was elected to work on local issues that impact Bedminster Township residents, and he is committed to that end.

I will be casting my vote to re-elect Colin Hickey to the Bedminster Township Committee. I encourage my friends and neighbors to do the same.

BOB HOLTAWAY
Bedminster Township

Editor’s Note: Bob Holtaway is a former Mayor of Bedminster Township.  This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

Two vie for seat on Bedminster Township Committee

BEDMINSTER TWP. – A Republican with a record of advocacy and a Democrat with “another point of view” will provide a choice in the race for a Township Committee seat in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

On the ballot for a three-year term are GOP incumbent R. Colin Hickey, who is serving his fourth year, and Democrat Jeff Beyer, who is making his second straight bid for the committee after running unsuccessfully last year.

Hickey and Beyer each discussed the issues in separate phone interviews with this newspaper.

The five-member governing body has been all Republican since Democrat Carolyn Freeman served out her term at the end of 2014.

Few local issues have sparked dissent during the coronavirus pandemic, but Beyer was critical of the committee’s Oct. 5 decision to hire a new organization to run its affordable housing services.

The committee replaced the Bedminster Hills Housing Corp. (BHHC), which had an administrator and several local board members, with CGP&H, LLC, of Cranford.

The BHHC had drawn criticism last year for neglecting and then reinstating a large “recapture” fee for residents who sell formerly income-restricted homes on the open market. The plan to replace the BHHC was not publicly disclosed until the Oct. 5 meeting agenda was posted online.

“The people in the BHHC reached out to me because they got so frustrated,” said Beyer, who voiced objections at the Oct. 5 meeting. “They got a letter saying there would be a change” yet the Township Committee “never sat down and discussed it with them.”

While Beyer acknowledged that the BHHC “had problems,” he said the committee allowed little time for rebuttals and “rushed” the change through. He said the process of decision-making “needs to be opened up.”

“We need some balance on this Township Committee,” he asserted. “It’s always the same people in lockstep.”

Hickey disagreed. “If he had been paying attention, he would have known this had been under discussion since last year,” he said. “He hopped on last weekend.”

CGP&H will provide “a much more comprehensive service” than BHHC has, Hickey said. Moreover, he said the committee learned that the BHHC had internal disputes such as rival factions stacking board seats.

“I wish Jeff had fully researched this because he may be unwittingly playing into the hands of people with their own self-interests at heart,” he said. “It’s a very complicated issue with a lot of players and it’s very difficult to boomerang in at the last minute.”

Hickey, 55, of Desiree Court, was appointed to the committee to fill a vacancy in August 2017 and was elected to a full three-year term that November.

He works as an independent consultant, helping start-up business. He previously worked for AT&T as its executive director of corporate development.

He has been a township resident for 28 years, spending the first 15 years in the Stone Run section of The Hills development. He and his wife have a daughter in college.

Beyer, 73, of Riverwood Avenue, serves on the board of the Clarence Dillon Library and is chairman of the Democratic Municipal Committee.

He owns a business, Enhancement Technologies, Inc., in Liberty Corner, that serves an international client base in the architectural products industry. He was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Vietnam.

A 32-year resident of the township, he and his wife have two grown sons.

Initiatives

“I can manage a budget, I can certainly help them (on the committee) keep the taxes low but I’d also like to see some investments,” Beyer said. “Interest rates are low now. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.”

Beyer said the committee has done “nothing new or exciting” aside from launching the annual Farmers Market and the COVID-19 food pantry.

Hickey, however, cited numerous initiatives that he or his committee colleagues have led.

In the spring of 2019, he said, his background in utilities led Mayor Larry Jacobs to ask him to reach out to Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) representatives to address chronic power outages in sections of The Hills.

He and residents in The Hills worked with JCP&L to make improvements to underground wires, transformer boxes, overhead wires and the problematic Greater Crossroads circuit station, he said. Outages, he said, have been reduced but additional improvements are still sought.

The committee also spearheaded a legal fight against a proposed New Jersey American Water rate hike that would cost township homeowners an average of $90 to $100 per year, Hickey said.

Lawyers funded by the township and six other towns are leading the cross-examination of New Jersey American officials in hearings before the state Board of Public Utilities, he said. He expressed hope for a favorable settlement.

Also, he and Mayor Jacobs persuaded the state Department of Transportation to consider signage and traffic signal changes at the Route 206/River Road jug-handle, where motorists were making hazardous U-turns, he said.

As a member of a subcommittee to enhance technology and communication, Hickey said he helped to revamp the municipal web site, which went from being “dated and archaic” to a “much more user friendly” site offering more content, updates and online payment options.

The new site was inputted with pandemic-related information on which businesses were open, their hours and how they could be reached, he noted.

Hickey also said the pandemic led him to help create the township food pantry to collect food for local residents in need. He said that with help from Deputy Township Clerk Robin Ray and generous donations, the pantry served 650 families between April and June.

As the governing body’s liaison to the Recreation Committee, Hickey said he was involved in sending out a recreation survey that drew 576 responses in August and September.

The survey asked what programs and facilities residents might want to see, he said. “We had some ideas but we wanted to hear from residents. It was a way to get user input. It will inform our planning and budgeting.”

“I think I’ve been a very good advocate for the residents,” he said.

Community Center?

Beyer said that as a member of the library board, he saw the library’s leadership work to upgrade it from just a book depository to more of a community center.

He said that led him to think about the possibility of building an actual community center in the township. Neither The Hills nor the Bedminster and Pluckemin villages have a real “center,” he noted.

Such a project is something people could rally around because it could provide after-school activities and function as a center for music and the arts, Beyer said.

“I’m not saying I’m going to be a tax-and-spend Democrat but there are ways to build something like this without crippling the tax base,” he added. He said funding could also come from grants, possibly open space funds and in the form of donations from some of the township’s wealthier sources.

Hickey, when asked about the idea, questioned why the township would want to “replicate what we already have” at the library.

“It has become the community center,” he said. Moreover, he said The Hills has its own clubhouses to fill the role.

“I’m not sure it financially makes sense or is needed,” he said. “I’m not sure where you get the money to build and operate it and I’m not sure it’s a good investment of taxes.”

With respect to the 2020 municipal budget, Hickey said it was virtually finished in March when the impact of the pandemic hit. He said the committee chose to revisit the budget and cut spending to shrink the municipal tax increase from 1.6 percent to 0.64 percent.

“We pared everything down,” he said. “We looked at capital items, we deferred employee salaries. Our objective is always to do the right thing.”

Affordable Housing

A looming issue is development from state-mandated affordable housing quotas.

The township is required to zone for 28 income-restricted rental units by July. Five are being provided in the Elite Properties apartment complex under construction on Lamington Road, leaving 23.

The owner of land that includes the Bank of the America building on Burnt Mills Road has offered to build the 23 units. But with affordable units typically subsidized by a five-to-one ratio of market-priced units, township officials have said a project may need to accommodate about 150 apartments.

“We need to hear from the public in terms of what they want,” said Hickey. The project is “not even half-baked right now. There is no site plan.”

Beyer expressed familiarity with the 23-unit obligation but was unaware that the development site would be on Burnt Mills Road.

The estimate of 150 apartments “sounds like a lot of housing,” he said. He characterized the nearby intersection with Route 206 as “brutal.”

Beyer said some 900 new homes are planned further south on Route 206 in Bridgewater Township, and “the only way from Bridgewater to get to (Interstates) 78 and 287 is through that little checkpoint of Pluckemin.

“We’ve got to come up with some sort of solution because it could be a traffic nightmare,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.