Manufacturing taken off the table for potential South Orange cannabis facilities

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange Trustee Bob Zuckerman announced that a license for a cannabis manufacturing facility was removed from the proposed ordinance allowing the sale of legal cannabis in South Orange at the South Orange Planning Board’s Feb. 7 meeting, two weeks after residents in the Academy Heights neighborhood expressed concerns about manufacturing having a negative effect on the area at the Jan. 24 Board of Trustees meeting. The planning board decided at its meeting that the ordinance is consistent with the village’s master plan with a vote of 6-0; members Michael Miller and Carolyn Morin abstained. 

Manufacturing is one of the six market classes of licensed cannabis companies; those facilities will be involved in the manufacturing, preparation and packaging of cannabis items. Zuckerman said at the planning board meeting that people who are looking to grow and cultivate cannabis are looking for large facilities for their businesses, but South Orange doesn’t have the room for large spaces.

“We take the community’s concerns to heart; we always do,” Zuckerman said. “We heard very loudly and very clearly, especially from the residents in Academy Heights, but also other neighbors, that they had environmental concerns and other concerns regarding the use of manufacturing. We thought the best course of action would be to start off with retail.”

A manufacturing facility would have been permitted to be built in an industrial zone between Valley Street and the railroad tracks, near Academy Heights. But Zuckerman said that, even though the area is zoned as industrial, it may no longer actually look that way.

“As many people rightly pointed out to us from Academy Heights, the industrial zone is not as industrial as it used to be,” he said. “There are a lot more residents and more coming. We have Third and Valley, Meridia coming to Fourth and Valley. If it was a solely industrial area, that might be one thing. But there have always been residents there, and there are obviously going to be a lot more. Taking all of that into consideration, we decided it made the most sense to move forward with primarily retail.”

At the Jan. 24 BOT meeting, residents in the neighborhood worried that the odor of cannabis would not be contained and would negatively affect air quality. They also said the area is too residential for an industrial building, and that such a building would be counterproductive to the village’s housing goals. Trustee Bill Haskins and Village President Sheena Collum said they agreed with the residents.

According to board planner and zoning officer Greer Patras, 85 percent of South Orange voters voted in favor of legalizing the sale of cannabis in New Jersey in the 2020 election, the highest percentage in the state. South Orange’s ordinance allowing sales requires business owners to follow specific design and site function rules if they plan on selling in the village.

“One of the things that’s really important in South Orange that we learned from the task force and the public was that these buildings are designed and function so that they appear like storefronts; they’re not sketchy buildings all blocked in. (They) operate as part of the community,” Patras said at the meeting. “There will be requirements that odor is mitigated, that security plans are provided to the police department, that signs are reviewed by the downtown committee and that buffers are installed if they share a boundary line with another zone. We really took a lot of the design requirements from the master plan and the nuisance reduction requirements, and employed them in this ordinance directly.”