January 28, 2014 at 12:09 AM
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – First-floor space previously reserved for retail use in downtown South Orange can now be leased as office space for medical and professional services.
The Board of Trustees voted Monday night to change zoning regulations to allow non-retail businesses on the street level of buildings in the downtown zone off South Orange Avenue, including Taylor, Vose and Church streets. The amendment to the Central Business District Redevelopment Plan passed, 4-1, with Trustee Sheena Collum voting against the change. Trustee Howard Levison was absent.
Supporters said lifting the restrictions on first-floor occupancy will aid downtown retailers and restaurants by bringing more people to downtown South Orange. “Retailers are having a tough time,” Trustee Mark Rosner said. “We need to do everything we can to bring in more people to the downtown.”
During the public comment and public hearing portion of the meeting, two doctors who live in South Orange but have offices elsewhere spoke in favor of the zoning change. In addition, John Rosellini, director of business development at Atlantic Health System, urged the board of vote in favor of the ordinance.
Dr. Hugh Snyder said, “I would love to be a doctor in town with an office in town.” He said he currently sees patients from South Orange and Maplewood at his practice in Summit.
However, former village President Douglas Newman said the change was being made “for a single landlord and a single tenant.” He argued that converting retail store fronts into commercial office spaces “would be a terrible step backwards.”
Two business owners, Leslie Pogany of Bunny’s Restaurant and George Berkeley of the UPS Store, said they favor allowing the non-retail uses covered by the ordinance. “Look to some of our neighboring towns,” Pogany said. “It has impact.”
Trustee Stephen Schnall noted that the South Orange Village Center Alliance board favored passage of the ordinance. However, Collum said that retailers on the board did not support it.
“For me, it’s not about the medical offices, it’s about rezoning,” she said, noting that the ordinance takes “what is already a very limited space” for retail occupancy for other uses. She added that there are “plenty” of medical offices in other South Orange locations. “It’s more about the question of zoning … and our vision plan,” she said.