For residents old enough to remember midnight screenings of Reefer Madness, the enormous “smoke-in” in Central Park on the very first Earth Day back in 1970 and the countless lives ruined by Nelson Rockefeller’s draconian drug laws, the demise of the War on Drugs – at least in the form of cannabis sativa – may feel a bit anticlimactic. While the process of loosening New York State regulations on this controlled substance took many decades, legalization seems to have arrived “not with a bang but a whimper.” Even if you smoked it yourself in your youth, if you grew up being told over and over that marijuana was the Devil’s weed, some cognitive dissonance still attaches to the realization that we’ll soon be able to purchase it close to home without breaking any laws. Will we now have to start rethinking our parameters for what makes a person a renegade?
Maybe it’s because of our “artsy” regional culture; maybe it has something to do with the fact that folks who grew up in the thick of the 1960s counterculture are now of an age to dominate municipal governments. Whatever the combination of reasons, Ulster has emerged as the most cannabis-friendly county in the Hudson Valley. By the time we reached the opt-out deadline at the end of December 2021, only four towns in Ulster County had decided not to allow either cannabis dispensaries or lounges once the state parameters for their operation is in place: Esopus, the Town of Saugerties, Shawangunk and Wawarsing. Gardiner, Hurley, Kingston, Lloyd and Ulster have all defaulted to allowing dispensaries only. Denning, Ellenville, Marbletown, New Paltz, the Village of Saugerties, Woodstock, Hurley, Lloyd, Olive and Rochester have embraced both dispensaries and lounges.
The potential for impaired driving was the concern most frequently cited by local leaders who opted to allow dispensaries but not lounges, with the latter being approved primarily in communities with walkable downtowns. At its February 1 meeting, the Gardiner Town Board reinforced this approach by deciding, with little fanfare or debate, to pursue zoning regulations that will concentrate dispensaries in the township’s “downtown” Hamlet/Mixed-Use district. There are a number of vacant commercial buildings being warehoused near the town center that might prove suitable for such use.
“It makes sense,” said councilman Franco Carucci. “The central hamlet would be best for any business, because it’s got the most traffic that moves slowly so you can see what’s there.” He echoed the feelings of several board members that other “hamlets” in Gardiner, such as Ireland Corners and Tuthilltown, were too remote to support cannabis dispensaries. “Not Benton Corners,” Carucci emphasized, referring to the intersection of Route 44/55 and Bruynswick Road that has been plagued with high-speed automobile collisions for years.
Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic noted that such development in the Hamlet/Mixed-Use zone will accord with the findings of a recent survey of Gardiner residents that “recommended more commercial activity downtown.” She also suggested that the Commercial Light Industrial zones, located on Steve’s Lane and two small sections of Route 208, might also be appropriate. But the consensus of the Town Board was to pursue concentration in the downtown hamlet, and Majestic agreed to instruct Town attorneys to draft a new local law to that effect.
According to former state senator Jen Metzger, now a member of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, licensing for cannabis dispensaries to open for business will likely be in place no sooner than early 2023.
Gardiner deadlocks on Planning Board appointment
Following an executive session to consider candidates at its February 1 meeting, the Gardiner Town Board failed to agree on an appointment to fill Carol Richman’s seat on the Planning Board. Richman, whose term had been set to expire on April 1, joined the Town Board effective January 1.
A motion to appoint Lisa Minnetto to the Planning Board was rejected by a 3-2 vote. Another motion to appoint Matt Bialecki was not seconded. That means that, for the present, Planning Board alternate Rob Boettcher will serve as a voting member.
The Town Board did agree, unanimously, to appoint 2017 town supervisor challenger Lisa Lindsley to fill the seat on Gardiner’s Zoning Board of Appeals that was vacated when former chair David Gandin was elected to the Ulster County Supreme Court. Gandin’s term runs through the end of July 2024. Rich Cerruto has taken over the chairmanship of the ZBA.
Finally, Gail Lahm was unanimously appointed to the seat on the Gardiner Parks and Recreation Committee vacated by the resignation of Roger Ennis. Ennis’ term runs until July of this year.
— Frances Marion Platt