ORDINANCE 2022-01 HAS BEEN TABLED PENDING FURTHER EVALUATION
NO NEW DISCUSSION DATE HAS BEEN SPECIFIED
On January 6, 2022, the Franklin Township Committee introduced Ordinance 2022-01: AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE REVISED GENERAL ORDINANCES OF THE TOWNSHIP OF FRANKLIN IN THE COUNTY OF HUNTERDON TO AMEND CHAPTER 220, “LAND USE,” TO CREATE ARTICLE XV “CANNABIS RELATED BUSINESSES”, AND TO AMEND CHAPTER 322, “TAXATION,” TO CREATE ARTICLE II “CANNABIS TRANSFER TAX”.
Said ordinance was published in the Hunterdon County Democrat on January 13, 2022 indicating that the ordinance would “be considered for final reading and adoption at a regular meeting of the Township Committee to be held on February 10, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. or as soon thereafter as the Township Committee may hear this Ordinance Online at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81271946525 and/or at the Municipal Building, 202 Sidney Road, Pittstown, New Jersey, at which time all persons interested may appear for or against the passage of said Ordinance.” Instructions as to how to access the Online meeting were published with the notice.
When interested residents contacted the Clerk’s Office for clarification of the location of the meeting, it was clarified that the Town Committee had not yet lifted the Township’s COVID-19 Procedures regarding meetings, thus the February 10th meeting was scheduled to take place online via Zoom. Requests to change the meeting venue were forwarded to the Town Committee to discuss during the January 27th meeting. The Township Attorney advised the Committee that any change to the February 10th meeting would have to be made at the January 27th meeting.
After extensive discussion, the Town Committee decided not to change the meeting location of the February 10th meeting citing COVID-19 health concerns, limited space in the Municipal Building, confusion regarding a sudden change in venue after publishing the Zoom meeting information, and that the online Zoom meeting would accommodate the most amount of interested residents. Upon the advice of the Township Attorney, it was determined that Franklin Township does not have the technology to appropriately conduct a hybrid (in-person and online) meeting. It was further advised that residents that were not comfortable with online technology or could not attend the meeting, could forward their statements to the Township Clerk’s Office who would disseminate their correspondence to the Town Committee and read it into the record at the public hearing.
As interest in the ordinance increased, the Clerk’s Office, Land Use Board and Town Committee were presented with an unprecedented number of questions, concerns, and requests for more information, along with additional requests to change the meeting location. It was reiterated that the decision to change the meeting and public hearing location would have to take place during a meeting in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act and that the Committee did not have any meetings scheduled before February 10th at which they could take that formal action.
On February 10th, at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Town Committee, Mayor Koury requested a motion to Table Ordinance 2022-01. He clarified that the Committee needed time to review the overwhelming amount of information received from the public and to see where any adjustments, revisions or clarifications needed to be made. Said motion to Table the ordinance was made by Committeeman Repmann, seconded by Deputy Mayor Burgess, and passed unanimously upon roll call vote.
Currently, the Franklin Township Committee, administrative staff and professionals are evaluating how best to proceed. There is a great deal of logistics involved in scheduling meetings of this size. At 7:47 PM, the February 10th online meeting held 245 attendees and continued to increase as the meeting continued. It peaked around 8:11 PM with 261 attendees. The meeting never dropped below 100 attendees during the duration of the meeting, which ended at 11:49 PM.
Though the Ordinance was Tabled, and therefore the ordinance’s public hearing was adjourned, 50 members of the public chose to speak during the Public Comments portion of the meeting. The Public comment portion of the meeting is a time any member of the public can speak regarding any topic they choose. All 50 members of the public who spoke chose to speak regarding Ordinance 2022-01 related topics. The Public Comments began approximately 8:12 PM and ended approximately 11:47 PM.
Both the number of interested residents and the length of time needed to appropriately address residents’ concerns and comments need to be considered as the Township considers its options for proceeding with any formal action regarding the ordinance. Access to the meeting must also be taken into consideration along with any statutory laws that govern township meetings and the procedures regarding adoption or defeat of any proposed ordinance. Once an option is selected the meeting will be appropriately noticed in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act.
On behalf of the Franklin Township Committee, staff, and professionals, I would like to thank the public for the incredible amount of information they have provided and for their patience and understanding as we work diligently to ensure that all interested residents have been both heard and understood.
Christine J. Burke, RMC, CMR, QPA