Borough Officials Work To Streamline Process For Businesses To Set Up Shop

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HIGHLAND PARK– The Highland Park Borough Council is expected to vote July 6 on an ordinance that will change the requirements for site plans for businesses and homeowners, which will reduce the amount of red tape to open a business or make home improvements.

The measure was introduced on the first reading May 18. A taskforce set up by Mayor Steve Nolan has been working on making the borough both more business and residential friendly since March.

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“This is clearly a demonstration of the mayor and council’s desire to reinvigorate our downtown development and shopping areas, and to make it easier for residents to improve their homes,” said Council Person Gayle Brill Mittler. “Both of these goals are sure to enhance the quality of life here in Highland Park. It will also help in making our community more economically sustainable.”

Marlon Pando, owner of White House Lotus, an organic bedding and gift store that moved to Highland Park last year, said the process of opening his business in Highland Park was difficult and unorganized.

“I wish there were a list of items needed, a central area of information,” Pando said, adding that he would think he’d be finished with the process only to find out more paperwork was needed.

The current ordinance gives the zoning officer discretion in waiving the site plan review for a new business owner or homeowner wanting to make improvements if the proposed construction or alternation does not affect existing issues, such circulation, drainage or the relationship to other buildings.

In the proposed measure, the zoning measure must waive the site plan review under those same conditions.

Brill Mittler, who expects the ordinance to be adopted, said the process for home and business owners will be significantly shortened. For example, the paperwork for homeowners wanting to make changes will be reduced from 10 to three pages, she said.

James McCrone, executive director of Main Street Highland Park (MSHP), which promotes the businesses along Raritan Avenue, said the proposed ordinance “shows a real understanding of and concern for businesses downtown. This new ordinance will go a long way toward recasting downtown Highland Park as a great place to work, have fun and do business.”

Steve Hambro, a MSHP board member and member of the ordinance taskforce, said the proposed ordinance removes the impediment from business owners who want to come into Highland Park and will save them time and money along the process.

The way the current ordinance is written, a business owner may spend $10,000-$15,000 on personal attorneys, engineers, application fees, professional fees and the planning board engineer. And the process could take up to six months.

“The new ordinance will attract new businesses by simplifying the entire process,” he said.

Nolan met June 15 with business owners along Woodbridge Avenue so they could air their concerns. He and the council extended the permitted uses for parts of Raritan Avenue and the council streamlined all checklists and board application formats to make them more user-friendly.

“Soon, we will be addressing issues in other downtown areas to make them more merchant friendly,” Brill Mittler said of future work.

Brill Mittler said she hopes the proposed ordinance will be implemented by mid-July.

The meeting is at 7 p.m., July 6 in borough hall, 221 S. Fifth Ave.


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