Planning Board denies smokeshop application

The Planning Board on Tuesday night voted 7-1 to deny minor site plan approval for a smokeshop on East Milton Avenue, claiming that it is not consistent with the Central Business District’s (CBD) redevelopment plan or the city’s master plan.

E Milton.29.from rightThe hearing was a continuation from the previous Planning Board meeting and largely focused on comments and questions from the public for about 30 minutes before the vote was taken. Attorney John DeNoia and applicant Harris Kahn of NK Smokeshop, Inc. presented some exhibits showing the type of signage that would be used for the retail shop, which would sell tobacco products, hookah, e-cigarette, cigars and cigarettes.

About 10 members of the public spoke, some Rahway residents and some who live outside of Rahway but work in the Rahway schools. Speakers were largely against the smoke shop, fearing that it would sell other illegal or synthetic drugs, and potentially expose children to drug paraphernalia.

“It’s very clear that it’s not just selling smoking paraphernalia,” said Kristine DeJesus-Farrar of Park Street. The Facebook page for applicant’s other store, Mad King Smoke Shop in Oceanside, N.Y., does not refer to traditional smoking culture, such as cigars or pipes, she said, but is littered with references to marijuana use and its benefits. She claimed it targets young people in the community and increased access to drugs can lead to increased use. “It’s outside the scope of what we’re looking to do as a community,” she said.

Fourth Ward CounE Milton.29.headoncilman David Brown said he’s seen what marijuana and synthetic drugs can do in a community, and encouraged the board “to have people listen to what we’d like to have done.” Residents also suggested it might discourage other potential merchants from the area, arguing that downtown is more in need of other businesses, such as a bakery. It’s unclear whether this particular space at 29 E. Milton Ave. could fit a bakery or have the requirements to house such a business. It  previously was occupied by a kitchen and bath remodeling store.

No matter what kind of business someone would like to have at the site, the building has been vacant for four years, according to DeNoia. There are regulations and licenses – which his client has — and the police can determine if illegal activities are going on, he said. “The applicant before you is totally conforming, nothing is changing, and it fits your use. As much as I appreciate the comments, legally, they don’t hold any water,” he said.

Planning Board member Richard Watkins, also the city’s construction official, said the applicant had not been forthright from the start about what he would be selling. “It’s not a retail tobacco shop, verifiable by visiting its website and Facebook page. It’s a head shop,” he said, and that’s not in keeping with the CBD redevelopment plan or the city’s redevelopment goals.

Several board members agreed, including Bob Bresenhan, 3rd Ward councilman, and Mayor Samson Steinman, who both attended Tuesday’s meeting as board members.

E Milton.29.from leftDeNoia again argued that the permitted use is a legal issue. The Planning Board does not have the authority to determine use and the decision was made by the zoning officer to assign the application to the Planning Board, not the Zoning Board for a variance. “It’s not your decision as a board whether it’s a permitted use,” he said. The city zoning officer assigned it to the Planning Board, where it could not be if it was a nonconforming use.”

Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Robinson cast the only vote against denying the application. While he had reservations about allowing this type of business, Robinson said it is still a legal business and was confident that the city would monitor it to ensure it complied with laws.

“Good luck finding a bakery,” Kahn quipped as he walked past the dais on his way out of Council Chambers after the hearing concluded.

Speaking after the hearing, DeNoia said he was unsure if his client would appeal. He will have 45 days after the board adopts a resolution at its next meeting, June 30, to file an appeal.

3 thoughts on “Planning Board denies smokeshop application”

  1. Can you tell me what are the goals of the CBD redevelopment plan and the city’s redevelopment . Maybe if they make this known people would know what kind of businesses would be accepted, seems like a lot of prospective businesses are often turned down. We need these vacant stores filled.

  2. Put the bakery right next to the head shop!

    To be honest all of downtown is open leases. We are getting leaps and bounds ahead of ourselves. Let’s get some businesses up and running. If they are bringing people to our downtown area and legal, that should be a good thing no matter what. Let’s fill these empty places and make Rahway the city it has the potential to be!

    We are putting up all these luxury buildings; I know because I live here in one, after growing up in this town all my life. We’re doing a great job at filling the apartments and really promoting the ease with which commuting is done, but that’s part of the problem. When I have a night out I don’t walk two blocks away, past the numerous amounts of open leases, to one of the very few dining options I have available to me by foot, because there’s just not much to offer! When I go on dates or have girls nights dinners my entire group of friends and I have much better options driving a few minutes away to Westfield, which is also a commuter city.

    These buildings going up are nice, and Mayor Samson works hard to make downtown a pretty and welcoming place to be, but if we don’t fill this area with the businesses, shops, restaurants etc. that people want and we as a city need if we want to keep adding buildings and filling up this space with people, then I don’t really see how that will serve us besides having an overcrowded town with a lot of tall buildings and even more empty open businesses.

    Start approving businesses in Rahway! We should be helping these business owners enter into our town…welcoming them! Yes, they don’t pay 1 million dollars in taxes annually like the new building approved to be developed, but they give people a reason to move into these buildings! I’d very much like to spend my money here in town on businesses I would like to see but I’ve got very little options unless I want meatballs or chicken wings. Since we are not opening up or approving much else besides these types of small quick stop eateries, may as well put a couple head shops down here. Anything bringing other people into our town to spend money is a good thing. And I’m sure the customers of the smoke shop may even be slightly more inclined to stop into our current businesses and restaurants.

    Let us grow!! Our community is at a stand still.

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