COURT HOUSE – The Planning Board has granted a site-plan waiver for a proposed cannabis retail store in Swainton.
The Massachusetts-based cannabis company Insa wants to add a Middle Township retail store to its growing list of locations in five states. The company, Middle Township Insa LLC, received conditional license approval from the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Jan. 17.
Now it has a site for its retail store in a structure that was once a Wawa and most recently a dermatology treatment center located at the intersection of Avalon Boulevard and Route 9.
Insa brought to the Thursday, Jan. 26, Planning Board hearing an expert to testify on the operation of a retail cannabis business, an engineer who conducted a parking adequacy analysis and a licensed planner. The company told the board that it planned no significant exterior changes to the structure but would make internal renovations appropriate to its business.
The company presentation placed emphasis on the growing percentage of sales at its other locations that are conducted through online purchases. This allows the store to schedule, and stagger if necessary, times for pickup of product so as to minimize parking and staffing issues. The flow of customers was estimated at 100 per day.
Insa sought no variances. The requirement that the company appear before the Planning Board and seek a site-plan waiver was imposed by the township’s ordinance pertaining to cannabis businesses only. If a retail business that did not deal with cannabis products was seeking to relocate to this same property without variances, no hearing before the board would have been necessary.
Conditions were set as part of the site-plan waiver. Chairman Anthony Anzelone summarized them as fixing drainage problems at the site, bringing the existing lighting structures up to code, improving and maintaining landscaping, and operating within the existing signage allocation.
A group of neighbors attended the meeting to argue against the granting of the waiver.
Paul Kates, a licensed planner, urged the board to require a full site-plan review. Saying he felt it reasonable to “fear the unknown” under these circumstances, Kates supplied photos of several other Insa sites in other states in questioning the adequacy of available parking at the Swainton location. He also provided the board with photographic evidence of drainage problems at the site.
Kates said that “things can be missed when a site plan is not required.” He argued that the operation may not be as “thoroughly thought out” without a more expansive plan.
Another neighbor, Craig Cunningham, said he remembered parking issues when the site was a Wawa. Cunningham was also open about his distaste for a cannabis operation, adding, “There is nothing positive about a cannabis store.”
Despite the objections, the Planning Board approved the waiver of a site plan, saying that the requirements of the waiver had been met.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at firstname.lastname@example.org.