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‘Action packed’ workshop set April 15, with four hot topics on agenda

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The Township Committee has a packed agenda for its next workshop meeting, with discussions planned on the township budget, a proposal for a redevelopment zone at a former concrete plant in Rio Grande, plans for a new liquor license and what the township should do if New Jersey legalizes the sale of marijuana to adults.

The workshop is set to start 4 p.m. Monday, April 15, at Township Hall, 33 Mechanic St. in Cape May Court House.

At the April 1 meeting, Mayor Timothy Donohue encouraged interested residents to attend.

“It’s going to be action packed,” he said.

There appears to be a lot of ground to cover.

In 2017, the township learned it was eligible for a sixth plenary liquor license, based on the results of the 2010 census. Other towns in Cape May County have recently auctioned licenses for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but some in Middle Township have been reluctant to add a license. In March of 2018, Township Committee voted to add the sixth license, despite concerns from some other license holders, but said that did not commit the township to putting it up for bids.

Donohue envisioned a discussion April 15 about the overall state of alcohol consumption in the township, as he put it, “the state of imbibing alcohol in Middle Township,” as well as covering the mechanics of the new planned license sale.

“Things have changed a lot since the last time we sold a liquor license,” Donohue said. “We didn’t have breweries or wineries or distilleries back then.”

The township also has two licenses for retail sales and four club licenses.

Donohue cited rules that allow hotels with more than 100 rooms a license for consumption on premises. At previous meetings, officials have discussed the possibility of a hotel with more than 100 rooms being developed at exit 10 of the Garden State Parkway.

The last time the township offered a new license was in 2010.

“There’s a lot more to the picture than there was the last time we sold a license, so we just wanted to have a discussion about that,” Donohue said.

He also wants to look at the potential for legal marijuana and what that could mean for Middle Township.

“As you’re probably aware, or maybe not, the move to legalize marijuana has failed for now in New Jersey,” Donohue said. “There are varying opinions on that, but I think it’s something that we as a town need to start discussing so that we don’t get surprised.”

With the backing of Gov. Phil Murphy and state Senate President Steve Sweeney, a bill that would have allowed the possession of marijuana and its regulated and taxed sale to adults was set for a vote in the Legislature on March 25, but was pulled that morning because support fell short in the Senate.

Supporters said the bill would be back, stating that it was a matter of when, not if, marijuana would be legalized. Polls show a majority in New Jersey support legalization, but there remains deep skepticism. Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, a Middle Township resident, bucked his party as one of the hard “no” votes among Democrats on the bill.

Several towns have already voted to exclude marijuana sales from their jurisdictions, including Wildwood and Ocean City, while others have weighed taking the step. The bill under consideration would allow towns to keep out dispensaries, but that also means saying no to the additional taxes from marijuana sales.

Some legal experts believe towns that have already voted would likely need to pass new ordinances if the legalization bill ever becomes law.

Donohue did not give an opinion on the matter at the recent meeting, saying only that the matter should be discussed before the state acts.

A revitalization area in Rio Grande received the most discussion at the April 1 meeting. Last year, the township approved a resolution to begin negotiations with Delco Development LLC on the redevelopment of a former concrete plant off Route 47, between the township bike path and Railroad Avenue. The township recently entered a similar agreement with Atlantic Cape Builders LLC for a separate redevelopment zone off Indian Trail Road in the Goshen section of the township, which Donohue described at the time as the first step in a long process.

On April 15, the township is set to consider the next step in the process for the redevelopment zone in the Rio Grande section. The designation as a redevelopment zone gives the township leeway on zoning and taxation, opening the possibility of approving a payment in lieu of taxation plan, or PILOT. According to Donohue, preliminary plans for the site include 77 town homes and 144 apartments, but he said plans have not been finalized.

Delco Development LLC operates the shopping area at Route 9 and Route 47, close to the redevelopment zone. The retail center includes Lowes, Walmart and other national stores. The company has developed several other properties in South Jersey.

According to published reports, Thomas Juliano, the president of Delco, has indicated the site could become a high-end rental community.

Residents at the most recent meeting indicated they had a lot of questions about the Rio Grande plan.

Township resident Stanley Doniger said he wants to see housing set aside for veterans, suggesting he plans to raise that issue with Juliano at the workshop.

Doniger questioned how committee members would be able to cover the issue in two hours. Donohue replied it would be more like a half hour, with four topics to cover at the workshop each getting a quarter of the available time.

“We’re going to be busy,” Donohue said later at the meeting.

At the regular Township Committee meeting April 15, a public hearing and final vote are planned on the township’s $22.17 million budget. As introduced, the budget did not increase the municipal tax rate over last year’s 48.3 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Residents will have a chance to have their say on the budget proposal at the regular meeting, but the committee plans to go over the budget in detail during the workshop.

This year, Township Committee changed its workshop schedule, holding the workshops once a month an hour earlier than previously. That gives the governing body two hours for discussion before the scheduled start of the 6 p.m. meeting.

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