Affordable housing focus of Bedminster election

BEDMINSTER TWP. – The administration of the township’s affordable housing program has emerged as a key issue in a four-way contest for two seats on the Township Committee on Nov. 2.

Running for the three-year terms are Republican incumbents Larry Jacobs of Hillside Avenue, the current mayor, and Renee Mareski of Crestmont Road in The Hills.

They are challenged by Democrats Giuseppe Zaccagnini of Stone Run Road and Uttara Patla of Smoke Rise Lane, both residents of The Hills.

The four candidates were interviewed separately by this newspaper last week.

The Democrats, who are making their first bids for public office, say they want “a seat at the table’’ and offer fresh perspectives. The five-member committee is currently all Republican.

“I want to make sure there’s transparency and accountability,’’ said Patla, 52, a native of India who has lived in town for 22 years. “Change is good. We need a new set of eyes. I think there’s a few problems that need to be fixed.’’

A corporate communications professional for Prudential Financial, she has a master’s degree in education and communications from the University of Illinois.

Her running mate came to Peekskill, N.Y., from Italy as a teen-ager. A retired attorney and educator who has also worked and lived overseas, he has lived in Bedminster since 2016.

“I have valuable experience and career skills and a full international life,’’ Zaccagnini, 72, said. “I think those skills would be highly transferrable to the proper running of the store, the proper oversight of departments.’’

Jacobs and Mareski tout their experience as longtime volunteers and elected officials.

Jacobs, 57, an environmental attorney, was first elected in 2012 and is seeking his fifth term on the committee. He is in his third year as mayor, a post selected by his colleagues, and would like to remain at the helm.

He said the biggest challenge facing the township is “making sure our land use master plan is viable for the long-term.’’

A big issue will be ensuring the AT&T complex remains in use if the communications giant opts to leave town or downsize operations here. The township has already initiated studies in case that happens.

“AT&T is our biggest commercial ratable and also an employment center,’’ Jacobs said. “That building has been practically vacant since the beginning of Covid. We need to make sure we are situated for whatever comes to that site. If we can keep them there, that’s great, but we have to be a realist. I think we’re going to see a reduced presence by AT&T and want to be sure we have plans in place to put that property back in play as quick as possible.’’

Mareski, 61, is seeking her second term on the committee. She grew up in neighboring Bernards Township and is a 1977 graduate of Ridge High School. She’s lived in Bedminster for 24 years.

She previously chaired the township Environmental Commission. She works full-time as a purchasing agent for a wine distributor and also teaches adaptive horse-riding.

She had served as a representative to The Hills Village Master Association and is the only committee member currently living in the huge development. Mareski said her focus remains on the environment.

“I want to be able to continue to work on managing our resources, our parks, working with the Jacobus Vanderveer House, to make sure they stay in good working order,’’ she said.

She said the all-Republican committee represents all township residents.

“None of our ideas or issues fall into conservative or liberal categories,’’ she said. “They’re resident issues. What can we do, what can we do to take care of our Bedminster residents.’’

Jacobs and Mareski both volunteer regularly at the township’s Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

The challengers have not served on any municipal boards or committees in town, but said they’ve heard from other Democrats here who claim they were blocked from appointments by the GOP.

“We asked for the opportunity to submit a name and the mayor basically just brushed us off, saying they already had a short list,’’ Zaccagnini said.

“I love this town and think I can contribute a lot with a pair of fresh eyes and new ideas,’’ he added. “My experience spans a lot of time and many places of the world. My lack of direct experience with town governance is more than made up for by the skill sets which I consider transferable. Hopefully we make the headway and get a seat at the table.’’

He said that he “acquired professional experience from governance of large corporations’’ and doing extensive contract work as an attorney.

“There’s not a lot to complain about,’’ Patla said about the town, saying she considers it a “privilege’’ to live here. “But you do you need to have multiple perspectives. A lot of what we’re seeing that goes on, there’s not a lot of challenging. You have to have diverse voices around that table. That would be very important for the town.’’

Affordable Housing

The most divisive issue discussed involves affordable housing.

The Democratic challengers say the incumbents lacked proper oversight over the resale of affordable units, allowing some 30 rentals to lose their affordable status. This resulted in the need to rezone property to allow for replacement low-cost rentals to meet state requirements.

“As I understand it, Jacobs and Mareski, both board members of BHHS (Bedminster Hills Housing Corp.), basically dropped the ball,’’ said Zaccagnini. “All of this would not have been necessary had they provided the appropriate oversight as board members.’’

He said the “Main Street monstrosity’’ under construction on Lamington Road and another major housing project “in the pipeline’’ on Route 202-206 at Burnt Mills Road will cause a future “traffic congestion nightmare.’’

Zaccagnini said the township could have negotiated for an extension of affordability requirements with the owner of multiple rental units to keep them off the market, but failed to act.

“We would have avoided having a shortage on the rental side,’’ he said.

The incumbents defended their record, saying they have taken the necessary steps to replace the BHHC – which for years handled low-cost home sales here – with a more professional administrative agency that manages affordable housing resales for dozens of state municipalities.

Jacobs said the challengers are “ignorant’’ of the complicated legal issues involving affordable housing and are being misled by individuals with personal financial interests.

“I don’t believe our opponents are educated on the workings of the affordable housing program,’’ he said. “We’ve seen this before. They pick up an issue and are so desperate to find some fault with the Township Committee that they’re not willing to do the due diligence from their sources.

“We know who is behind this and their motivation is not pure,’’ he added, “people whose motivations are not in furtherance of the affordable housing program.’’

Jacobs said when he first joined the BHHC board as mayor, he learned that “the opportunities for self dealing and conflicts of interest were rampant.’’

As an example, he played back a recorded phone message left to the BHHC from a real estate broker who informed that he had a buyer for an affordable unit. He had worked out a deal, the broker said, and was seeking an application form.

Jacobs said that’s not how the affordable housing program is supposed to work.

“You’re supposed to have a waiting list,’’ he said. “It’s not cherry picking, who gets access to affordable housing.’’

He detailed several other actions involving the BHHC that he said were questionable, including approval of grants made directly to homeowner associations in The Hills.

He said he also learned the BHHC “was spending legal money to go to the foreclosure and using the affordable housing money to buy units at the auction, buying them, and if they needed repair they’d fix them back up.

“I said it didn’t make sense,’’ he said. “You’re spending money on lawyers and doing all this work and selling them at a loss.’’

Another major snafu led to the eventual termination of the BHHC, and ongoing litigation against its attorney.

Jacobs said that when 30-year affordability requirements were expiring on hundreds of Hills units, the BHHC attorney incorrectly informed the agency that the homeowners were not required to pay a “recapture fee’’ back to the affordable program when the homes were sold.

“It seemed inconsistent with the whole mission of affordable housing to me,’’ he said. “No money coming back to the affordable housing program.’’

He called it a “total windfall’’ for the owners of income-restricted homes to sell them and profit.

About a year later the BHHS learned that the owners were actually required to pay the fee. But in the meantime, numerous sales transactions occurred without the fee being collected.

Jacobs he said some members of the BHHC didn’t want to take action to get the money.

“Now we’ve got board members saying we can’t go after anyone, we have to let everyone go,’’ he said. “I’m sitting there as the mayor, I’m responsible, along with the Township Committee, for the affordable housing program to maintain the integrity and the vitality for the affordable housing program, and I’ve got a board that was ready to let it go.’’

He said recapture fee applied to about 600 homes overall.

“I have an obligation to make sure we have the funds available to be deployed appropriately,’’ he said. “Folks on the board who owned units or were otherwise involved in those transactions do nothing and now my blood is boiling.’’

He said he told the group he would recommend the Township Committee terminate BHHC as the administrative agent if no action was taken. “You are not going to jeopardize the affordable housing program because you don’t want to pay your 20 percent recapture,’’ he said.

The committee ultimately went out to bid and replaced with BHHC with CGP&H, LLC, which on its website claims to be “the only full service affordable housing implementation company in New Jersey.’’

Jacobs and Mareski say the change has worked out well.

“They are working out fantastic,’’ Mareski said. “It’s a complicated process, qualifying homeowners. They have a lot of experience and are handling it in a fair and equitable manner.’’

Jacobs said there is now a long waiting list for Bedminster affordable homes.

But Zaccagnini said the new management company has problems.

“Their presence is scarce,’’ he said. “You can not reach a human being on phone.’’

Jacobs denied that there was a realistic opportunity to negotiate with the owner of numerous affordable rentals to keep them off the market, saying the owner wanted millions of dollars that the township didn’t have.

He also defended the township’s rezoning of land in Pluckemin Village for a 160-unit housing development that will include 24 affordable rental units.

The project would be built on the south side of Burnt Mills Road between the Chase Bank and Pluckemin Schoolhouse Park.

Jacobs said the project was “put in the right spot’’ and would “improve the commercial and retail experience in Pluckemin.’’

He also said that if built, the developer “has the obligation to improve the traffic’’ at no expense to taxpayers.

The challengers raised no budgetary issues during the interviews.

Mareski noted that there was “no raise in our taxes this year.

“The Township Committee did an amazing job the last two years,’’ she said, noting that the focus was on issues involving Covid and employment. “This continues to be our focus. Our residents come first. We do try to make our pennies squeak.’’

Jacobs said he gets “satisfaction knowing that Bedminster remains a place where folks are happy and proud.’’

“They appreciate the efforts we have been undertaking.’’ he said.

But the challengers say another perspective is needed in the local government.

“Having me involved in the decision-making process would be highly beneficial in providing the necessary checks and balance and accountability,’’ Zaccagnini said.

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

LETTER: Jacobs and Mareski ‘dedicated to Bedminster’

TO THE EDITOR: On Nov. 2, I look forward to voting to re-elect Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski to the Bedminster Township Committee.

I have been a resident of Bedminster Township for 20 years. Bedminster is widely recognized as an exceptional town, in large part due to the well-run local government – led by Mayor Jacobs and a hard-working Township Committee exemplified by his running mate Mareski – that grasps local issues, addresses them head on and produces positive results that benefit our community.

They are approachable and very responsive to our community when issues arise.

Larry and Renee’s dedication to serving Bedminster residents is evident in their responsible stewardship of Bedminster’s tax base.

Larry is adept at balancing the committee’s fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers with the delivery of outstanding community services. He knows that time spent on the dais is the smallest part of his job. He spends a great deal of time making certain that each municipal department and volunteer committee delivers value, runs efficiently and manages spending.

His leadership style is infectious. From the construction office to the Historic Preservation Commission, Larry encourages department heads, committee chairpersons, township employees and members of volunteer boards to focus on positive outcomes that benefit Bedminster residents.

He also leads by example, driving around town to survey storm damage, being on-site in response to emergency situations and volunteering to direct traffic at the Bedminster Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Renee has parlayed her own experience living in affordable housing and serving for many years on the Crestmont HOA Board into her present Township Committee role as an advocate for all homeowners associations in Bedminster.

Most recently, she has been the conduit for the HOAs to connect directly with Altice to learn about their plans to improve services and influence next steps.

Renee is also the township liaison to several volunteer boards, e.g., the Environmental Committee where she previously served as chairperson. She is a strong supporter and promoter of programs that enhance our quality of life and engage residents.

Renee’s leadership has spawned favorites such as Moth Night and Bat Night, and she is always open to ideas for new initiatives for community outreach and involvement.

The role of Township Committee member goes far beyond attending the Monday evening meetings where official township business is conducted. Larry and Renee have achieved positive outcomes for Bedminster through their sound decision-making, delivery of community programs and services and advocacy for residents.

We all win when local government works for you. I encourage you to join me in voting to re-elect Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski to the Bedminster Township Committee, so that all of us can continue to benefit from their leadership, dedication and results.

Wescott Road
Bedminster Township

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

LETTER: Bedminster Republicans helped town through crisis

TO THE EDITOR: Community. That is what Mayor Larry Jacobs, Committeewoman Renee Mareski and the Bedminster Township Committee have brought our municipality over the past several years.

They created a farmers’ market to promote our rural culture. The market has been an unprecedented success, not only for the farmers, but also as a gathering place where several hundred of us meet every week to shop and talk about our families and the week’s events.

Mayor Jacobs and Committeewoman Mareski consistently champion efforts to improve quality of life for our residents.

When COVID-19 was shutting down society, Jacobs, Mareski and the Township Committee kept our parks open, ensuring that our hike and bike paths continued to be a place for Bedminster residents to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors.

Working together as a team, they opened a food bank, so those of us with a steady income could help those who found themselves suddenly without.

They also moved quickly with special use permits, cutting red tape to allow our local businesses to survive the unprecedented economic impact of the governor’s lockdown.

Jacobs, Mareski and the Township Committee brought Bedminster together to mourn the loss of Bedminster Police Sgt. Alterek Patterson, an early casualty of the pandemic and a local hero.

Although COVID-19 hit New Jersey hard, Bedminster has enjoyed a relatively high vaccination rate, and one of the lowest infection and mortality rates.

While our mayor and Township Committee continued to keep taxes low, promoted our local economy and preserved our open space, they did much more, ensuring throughout the crisis that we kept our sense of community.

I will be voting to re-elect Mayor Larry Jacobs and Committeewoman Renee Mareski for the Bedminster Township Committee on Nov. 2, and I urge you to do as well.

Airport Road
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: The writer is a former Mayor and member of the Bedminster Township Committee. This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Jacobs, Mareski ‘delivered strong results’ in Bedminster

TO THE EDITOR: I recently came across a flier from the local Democrats running for office in Bedminster. It was entitled, “Bedminster…Unique and Exceptional.”

I couldn’t agree more!

How did we get there? Through the hard work and dedication of the Bedminster Township Committee, headed by Mayor Larry Jacobs and supported by Committeewoman Renee Mareski, the Republican candidates for re-election.

Larry has led the committee through nine years of budget work, scrutinizing every line item to protect the interests of taxpayers. The results he has delivered are unequivocal: Bedminster leads in low taxes in all of Somerset County.

But leadership is also about making tough calls. Our bucolic town is faced with challenges that have to be met head-on with planning and proactivity.

Faced with new state-mandated affordable housing requirements, Larry and the Land Use Board led the township’s response to make sure that the scope and scale of these projects were kept in check, while ensuring a design that was appropriate to Bedminster.

And with the possible departure of AT&T from its former corporate headquarters, Larry has championed the effort with the landlord and county officials to preserve the viability of the campus. Larry is not about to leave Bedminster taxpayers on the hook for an empty building.

Never one to take no for an answer, he tirelessly advocates for Bedminster. With an accident-prone intersection at River Road and 202/206, Larry lobbied the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to make needed improvements in signaling and signage.

When the utility companies couldn’t deliver, he pushed the Township Committee to address the issues and effect change.

And while others casually dismissed the idea of a weekly farmers market to support both residents and local agriculture, Larry pushed forward, creating what has become the new town square every Saturday morning. You’ll see him there weekly, directing traffic and greeting customers.

But perhaps the greatest testimony to his leadership has been his unwavering response in times of crisis.

During his tenure as mayor, he has helped Bedminster respond to the global pandemic, keeping our parks and trails open, ensuring folks had access to COVID information and vaccinations, and helping those who were food challenged.

When fire tragically stuck the Village Green section of The Hills, Larry cut through the red tape, pushed for a rapid response by the agencies involved and directed a donation drive to help those in need.

When Ida flooded roads and threatened life and property, Larry worked with our first responders and FEMA to make sure citizens received the support they needed, both during and after the storm.

Folks, Bedminster needs a leader like Larry.

Larry’s running mate, Renee Mareski, is the voice of the people. She is amazingly astute at listening to the needs of Bedminster residents and artfully crafting solutions.

As a former member and later chair of the Environmental Commission, Renee has heeded the calls to embrace and preserve Bedminster’s rich ecosystem – championing environmental programming, preserving the Bedminster Pond and driving (pun intended) the push for our municipal fleet to go electric.

As a longtime resident of The Hills, Renee has worked to improve pedestrian safety, advocated for affordable housing residents and been the principal liaison to the Homeowner’s Association community.

She knows the pressures that the combination of taxes and association fees places on residents, and is always asking the question, “Do we really need to spend that money?”

And the Farmers Market? You may not realize it, but Renee is on the set-up crew, arriving early every Saturday morning to get things in place before leaving to work her second job as a horse riding instructor for children with special needs.

Bedminster is a better place because of the contributions Larry and Renee make to our town. They have dedicated their time and energy to municipal service, and can leverage their deep experience to address the challenges and issues that will confront us in the years to come.

Come Nov. 2, I strongly encourage you to vote for the team that has consistently demonstrated both leadership and dedication, and delivered strong results. Join me in voting to re-elect Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski to the Bedminster Township Committee.

Desiree Court
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Bedminster Township Committee. This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Jacobs and Mareski called ‘proven leaders’ for Bedminster

TO THE EDITOR: When you cast your vote for Bedminster Township Committee, ask yourself how much sweat equity has each candidate put into the betterment of Bedminster?

For me, the answer is easy. Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski, who have devoted countless hours over many years to serving the residents of Bedminster, can count on my vote to re-elect them in November.

As longtime residents of Bedminster, Larry and Renee have consistently addressed local issues that impact the quality of life for all township residents.

Their desire to help the community initially led them to volunteer to serve on boards and commissions where their contributions resulted in beneficial outcomes for Bedminster. Both moved up the ranks in their service to Bedminster before being elected to the Township Committee.

Now, as members of the committee, Larry and Renee continually advocate for Bedminster residents, making certain that their collective voice is heard. Depending on the issue they, and the rest of the committee work with representatives from utility companies, service providers, and state and county government so that these entities understand the needs of our residents and are prepared to take action.

Over the past year, this advocacy has produced positive results. Under the leadership of Mayor Jacobs, the Township Committee has successfully applied the swing weight of local government to accomplish what one person or the homeowners’ association could not do on its own: help residents impacted by the fire in Village Green; adjust the new Somerset County recycling program to accommodate smaller receptacles where appropriate; reduce the frequency of power outages; improve Internet performance; and secure safety improvements to the River Road intersection on state highways 202/206.

Not only are Jacobs and Mareski proven leaders who understand and successfully execute the business of governing Bedminster Township for Bedminster residents, they are also hands-on volunteers who support numerous community programs such as the Bedminster Farmers Market, the pop-up food pantry, and a wide variety of environment and recreational programs.

Although Jacobs and Mareski each maintain a full-time career, they are faithful volunteers at the Bedminster Farmers Market.

Every Saturday morning from Memorial Day through mid-December, Renee works the early shift, setting up traffic cones, signage, tents, tables, trash cans and sanitizing stations, before she moves on to another passion, equine therapy.

From 9 a.m. through 1 p.m., equipped with radio and orange signal baton, Larry directs traffic in the parking lot. When the market closes, he transfers to cleanup detail, putting everything away that the early shift set up.

It’s not unheard of for Larry and Renee to work for Bedminster on Sundays – preparing for Township Committee meetings, responding to questions on FaceBook, or even surveying storm damage and road conditions.

Based on their strong work ethic, demonstrated commitment, and dedication to Bedminster residents, I will be voting for Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski in November for re-election to Township Committee and I urge all Bedminster residents to do so as well.

Fairview Drive
Bedminster Township

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

Bedminster Pond Improving After Treatments

Just three months after its appearance spurred concerns that it was slowly dying, things are looking better for a popular, man-made fishing pond off Route 202-206 near the AT&T office complex.

At the Township Committee meeting on Monday, Aug. 16, Committeewoman Renee Mareski said the pond had undergone its third chemical treatment this season as “it looks very nice.”

Mayor Larry Jacobs observed that “just a few weeks ago, the algae was still there.”

Mareski credited the improvement to the township having gained “a little more experience” with pond maintenance.

The six-acre, municipally owned pond was created by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) during the construction of Interstate Routes 78 and 287 in the 1960s. The DOT excavated soil from the site, creating a pit that ultimately filled up with water runoff.

Located near hike-and-bike trails, the pond has been known to have large carp. But when last summer brought extreme heat and humidity, the pond acquired a “skunky” odor and lacked its usual presence of swans and ducks.

On March 17, the committee approved an Environmental Commission proposal to try to improve the water quality through a two-year trial of increased treatment for weed control. Also approved was an Eagle Scout project to measure the depth of the pond, as well as measurement by a drone.

The cost was projected at $7,000 to $10,000 per year, excluding $1,500 for the drone measurement.

The number of treatments was increased from just one every spring to five per year, so at least two more are planned in 2021.

Mareski said after the meeting that the Eagle Scout pond measuring project, which would utilize a marked pole from a canoe, is planned this fall. She said the pond will be easier to clean if its depth is at least eight feet.

After weed control is implemented and pond depth is determined, plantings would be made in the more shallow areas to “restore balance” to the pond.

“We will do an evaluation next year to see how the treatments are going,” Mareski said.

The Bedminster pond, though public, is not widely known and has limited parking and access. There are two relatively small, unpaved and unlabeled parking areas along Route 202-206 that are used as access.

The pond is nevertheless known among local fishermen. An online state Division of Fish and Wildlife list of “places to fish” has a chart that includes the Bedminster pond and denotes it as having Largemouth Bass.

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

Outages in The Hills in Bedminster Reviewed

Aug 19, 2021

BEDMINSTER TWP. – Despite two significant storm-related outages in The Hills development last month, a utility representative told the Township Committee on Monday, Aug. 16, that upgrades have and will continue to be made.

The outages occurred on Tuesday, July 6, and Thursday, July 8. Both involved the Greater Crossroads Circuit and each affected about 644 Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) customers in Bedminster, according to township officials.

In response, the committee invited Carol Bianchi, regional affairs director for JCP&L, to discuss efforts to reduce outages in The Hills.

Bianchi, a Basking Ridge resident and former Bernards Township mayor, began by providing more details.

The July 6 outage occurred during high winds and rain that caused a tree to fall on a primary wire and knock out power for about 225 minutes, she said.

The July 8 outage occurred during Tropical Storm Else which caused a lightning strike at Greater Crossroads and knocked out power for about 189 minutes, she said.

But Bianchi noted that so far this year, those are the only two outages from Greater Crossroads to have impacted more than 100 people. Last year, she said, the total was 14.

Greater Crossroads is one of five circuits that serve the township, along with the Somerset, Peapack, Chambers Brook and Dead River circuits.

Bianchi said JCP&L will focus on a circuit if it has “a bad year,” and the utility pursued upgrades to Peapack and Chambers Brook before turning its attention to Greater Crossroads where it “identified issues.”

The upgrades included the addition or replacement of equipment and supplemental tree trimming. Among the new equipment was the installation of a trip saver, which minimizes outages caused by a branch or animal temporarily coming in contact with the line.

The performance of Greater Crossroads is “actually very good this year,” Bianchi said. “I think we’re seeing that improvements are happening.”

Restoring power can take longer than people would like, she noted. She explained that JCP&L crews must first isolate a site and make it safe, repair high voltage lines and prioritize restoration to critical services.

But the utility also takes preventative measures, she said. They include circuit inspections in five-year cycles, infrared scans of circuits every four years, wood pole inspections every 10 years, and vegetation removal in four-year cycles.

Mayor Larry Jacobs saw improvement.

“We monitor complaints from our residents,” he said. The complaint level “seems to have abated and we attribute this to our relationship” with JCP&L.

He also praised Bianchi as being responsive.

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

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.