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WEST AMWELL – The planning board hearing on a proposal to convert a vacant church into a facility to grow medical marijuana will continue next month.
The first hearing on the the proposal by GMNJ Properties, part of Colorado-based Green Medicine, to convert the former First Pentecostal Prayer of Faith Church at Route 518 and Rock Road into a 30,000-square-foot cultivation facility, began Tuesday. It was adjourned until June 21 when the meeting reached its time limit with more witnesses scheduled to testify.
Residents will not have an opportunity to express their opinions on the proposal until after Green Medicine presents its witnesses, according to state land use law. Residents are allowed to ask questions of the witnesses after their direct testimony during the hearing.
Tuesday’s meeting was moved to the auditorium of South Hunterdon High School because of public interest, but no location has been announced for the June meeting.
The planning board hearing came after the township signed a host community agreement with Green Medicine calling for the company to pay an annual $100,000 community fee for five years, a total of $500,000 if the proposal is approved.
Green Medicine has also agreed to pay the township a 2% tax based on its gross revenue in medical marijuana sales.
The agreement “is to assist the township in addressing the potential health, safety and other effects or impacts of the facility may have on the township and on municipal programs.”
The agreement also states that Green Medicine will be allowed to make additional payments to the the township, including the funding of local drug abuse, prevention and education programs.
In addition, if the proposal is approved, the property will be subject to property taxes because religious land is exempt from property taxes.
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The agreement also outlines the company’s obligation to the township police department and fire department.
In August 2019, the township wrote a letter of support to the state, backing Green Medicine’s application to operate the facility.
Much of the community opposition to Green Medicine’s plan comes after neighbors last year complained about odors from the Verano Holdings growing facility in a former Walmart on Route 22 in Readington.
The West Amwell Township Committee has also created a cannabis advisory committee to review applications for cannabis businesses, including cultivators, to operate in West Amwell.
The committee has the responsibility of reviewing the applications and then making a recommendation to the Township Committee, which has the power to issue, suspend and revoke licenses for the cannabis businesses.
In 2020, two-thirds of township voters approved a statewide ballot question legalizing marijuana.
Green Medicine received approval from the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission in October to open a cultivation facility.
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The facility is a permitted conditional use under the township’s zoning ordinance.
Green Medicine, which also has growing facilities in Colorado and Arizona and is seeking licenses in Illinois and Florida, would not allow public access to the site and would not have retail sales.
Green Medicine bought the 22-acre parcel with the 18,395-square-foot empty church building in December.
No changes to the exterior, footprint or height of the building are proposed. Green Medicine is proposing to expand the second-floor balcony in the former sanctuary to a full second floor. Green Medicine would also make all necessary repairs to the building and property and would plant street trees along Route 518 and Rock Road.
The only variance that Green Medicine is seeking is for an 8-foot fence around the facility that is required by state regulations. Township zoning only allows 6-foot fences.
The First Pentecostal Prayer of Faith Church filed for bankruptcy in October 2016. If the cultivation center is approved, the township would then be able to collect property taxes because houses of worship are exempt from property taxes.
In January, after heated public meetings, Alexandria Township turned down a plan by Altus New Jersey LLC for growing and processing marijuana plants on preserved farmland off Airport Road.
In February, an informal proposal for a possible cannabis cultivation facility in Kingwood Township was met with near unanimous opposition from residents.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.