In an effort to attract businesses, Old Bridge officials look to rework planning and zoning codes

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE TOWNSHIP OF OLD BRIDGE

OLD BRIDGE – In attempt to shake up a 1970s planning and zoning code classification system, planning and zoning officers in Old Bridge have been moving towards reworking zones allowing for more businesses to come into the township without all the restrictive nuances.

In March, the Township Council approved changes to two economic development opportunity (EDO) zones through amended ordinances, making them more flexible and creating a more friendly-business atmosphere.

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.

Among the changes, the ordinance now provides 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.

“What triggered the amendments was the zoning officer [Damian Gill] and myself were getting calls from various businesses and asking us if a business was permitted in the zone,” said Veena Sawant, township planner, noting oftentimes they would have to send businesses to the Township Zoning Board because it was not a permitted use in the ordinance, regardless of if the business was appropriate for the zones or not.

For example, a pet store was permitted, but pet grooming was restricted under the previous ordinance.

That is when Sawant and Gill started reviewing the entire land development ordinance, which led to the discussion about consolidating the CN (Commercial Neighborhood) Zone and the EDO Zone 1 at a Township Council meeting on Sept. 9.

“I started receiving properties in the neighborhood, commercial zone and I realized the purpose of both [EDO Zone 1 and CN Zone] are exactly identical,” Sawant said.

The council was expected to review a first reading of consolidating the CN Zone into the EDO Zone 1 at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

The CN Zone, characterized by small scale retail uses coupled with personal services and general business and medical offices uses, is located along Englishtown Road, Old Matawan Road, Route 35, the intersection of Cliffwood Avenue/Morristown Road, and Matawan Road.

The EDO Zone 1, area having one-acre minimum lot size, aims at creating small scale non-residential developments along the highly traversed routes that generally cater to the needs of the neighboring residential uses.

Sawant said the CN and EDO Zone 1 bulk requirements are similar except for the minimum and maximum front yard setbacks, side and rear yard setbacks as well as floor area ratios (FAR).

She noted the slight differences in the setbacks and the FAR will not change the character of the neighborhoods and the landscape buffers will remain the same. Applicants seeking above or below the maximum and minimum setbacks will have to seek variances from the planning or zoning boards.

Gill said the biggest takeaway from the conversation and future conversations is moving away from the business dynamic of what once was the specific businesses of selling stamps and books to now big box retail.

He said the changes and the usage of the old classification system has brought on impractical nuances.

“Veena and I decided the CN [Zone] was probably the fastest we can make the most impact,” Gill said. “Not only can we stop sending applications to the Zoning Board [for variances], but in the perspective of businesses, we may lose out on businesses that might not have the wherewithal or stomach for [the restrictions], whereas other municipalities are a little more advanced or progressive in changing their code.”

Gill said Old Bridge has made a lot of strides towards improving relationships with the business community.

“What we’re trying to do gives us reasonable and responsible flexibility with our code to bring in new dynamic [businesses],” he said.

Ward 5 Councilman Tony Paskitti said the changes are exciting.

“I sat on the Planning Board all year and it’s great that you are looking at the whole town and you are seeing inconsistencies and trying to fix it,” he said.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.