Township officials work on creating a business-friendly atmosphere in Old Bridge

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OLD BRIDGE – In an effort to make two economic development opportunity [EDO] zones more flexible, township officials have re-evaluated the ordinances to create a more friendly-business atmosphere.

Pinder Sumal, assistant township engineer, appeared before the Planning Board on Feb. 5 to present the changes.

“The ordinance is very restrictive and most uses have to be bounced back to the Zoning Board,” she said. “The first step is we looked at the EDO zones, looked at properties in the EDO zone and then started evaluating as to what would work and not work.”

EDO Zone 3 is along Route 9 and Route 18, which is in a highway, commercial area, and EDO Zone 1 is along Route 34, Englishtown Road and a portion of 516 in a neighborhood, commercial area.

The Mayor’s Economic Development Office and Zoning office has fielded numerous calls about some confusion about what is and is not a permitted use.

“We’re trying to be more business-friendly, engage more businesses in Old Bridge,” Sumal said.

Some of the current issues of the ordinance is it is over restrictive of permissible uses; EDO-1 and EDO-3 are identified as identical; and there is a concentration of auto-related uses along Route 34 within the EDO-1 zone.

“Drive-through facilities have been treated like accessory uses,” she said. “If we are talking about a town center, main street, we can’t have that many drive-through facilities and the reason is there needs to be more circulation around the building.”

Among the changes, Sumal said they provided definitions for uses including light industrial, retail sales and services, retail services and fueling, bank and restaurants on pad sites with or without drive-through facilities.

“The [current] ordinance is so specific that you can sell ice cream, but you can’t sell cookies,” she said. “This becomes a challenge every now and then. A pet store is allowed, but grooming is not allowed. Kenneling is allowed, but annual day cares are not allowed. It becomes very challenging for businesses asking why we are being difficult. It’s not really us being difficult, it is the way the ordinance is written.”

Sumal said she has discussed the issues with Steve Mamakas, executive officer of Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

Other uses added to the ordinance is wellness center and spa and educational services.

“I thought it dealt with mind and body [regarding wellness center and spa], but I was wrong,” she said. “Some wellness and spas have clinics and rehab centers.”

Sumal said the ordinance has a clear definition of the use wellness center and spa and the clinic and rehab center is not a permitted use. As for educational uses, it triggered defining a use up to 10,000 square feet is permitted such as a Kumon and Math Genius and anything beyond 10,000 square feet is not permitted in the EDO-1 zone.

Planning Board Chairwoman Barbara Canon said the changes bring the zones into relevance and take into account the problems that have existed for years.

Mamakas said a lot of time and effort was taken and the department heads provided the needed information.

“It provides great flexibility for the township to accept new types of businesses,” he said. “In a lot of the changes that are made it does not exclude businesses, it becomes a use variance and if they want to pursue [their application] they can come in front of us and go down the path. The key is the part of continued economic development and that really feeds into it.”