BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 3 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answer is from Republican Township Council Candidate Jeff Varnerin for Week 3.

Week 3 Question:

Sign Up for Berkeley Heights Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

  • How will you support the local business community recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 closures and loss of business?
  • How will you help to attract and retain business both large and small to Berkeley Heights?
  • Where do you stand on the re-zoning and redevelopment of Connell Park?

How will you support the local business community recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 closures and loss of business?

While walking down a staircase at my office, a physician colleague of mine advised me that “everybody will know someone who dies from this virus!”   No doubt that I was shocked when I heard this perspective coming from someone that I admire and trust.  Two months later, we mourned the passing of my godfather.  I know all too well, the ravages of the pandemic.

Putting the emotion aside, as I have had to do in many aspects of experience as a volunteer front line worker, one must be laser focused on outcomes and impacts.  We must understand the complexity of the data and pivot to insights, simple solutions, and actions, just as I do every day as scientist with deep understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Critical here is to understand what the needs of the business community are and what is in our ability to influence.  So early on, as governmental restrictions prevented normal business,  I rapidly moved from data analysis to action; by encouraging monetary donations for business relief, completing FLAG deliveries from local restaurants, and social media advocacy to increase visibility of our local businesses. 

I also began collaborating with Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley to connect business owners to state level resources.  We must facilitate increased predictability for our business community and connection to all levels of government. We will provide that bridge.  

How will you help to attract and retain business both large and small to Berkeley Heights?

The Berkley Height Business and Civic association has been a great partner to the township.  If you have ever been to DiMaio’s for a slice of Sal’s world-famous pizza you have interacted with a long-term business owner who is fully invested in our community.  There are many barriers that stand in their way including burdensome local bureaucracy.  We must be open to the diversity of perspectives and listen to the needs of business community and collaborate with the BHBC and owners like Sal.

Our downtown business will greatly benefit from increased foot traffic.  Town projects at the old Kings, Mondelli property, movie theater and florist will bring that traffic.  We should be holding our developers to task and move these projects through; thus, we need solid project management skills to ensure standards and quality measures are met.  In the long-term, driving our families, friends and acquaintances to our downtown will benefit our businesses across the board.  

Regular closures of Springfield Avenue to create more of pedestrian mall feel that is regularly planned, easy to participate in and taken to the next level with new and exciting cultural diverse experiences will drive the predictability that our businesses crave and become the magnet for future businesses.

Where do you stand on the re-zoning and redevelopment of Connell Park?  

It’s a beautiful clear Saturday and you are watching your child’s soccer game and then, after a short walk, you grab a craft beer the kids grab a taco and you let your “pandemic” puppy have fun in the dog park.   Maybe this sounds like a dream for many out there, but this is the plan at Connell.  

Here is the thing, the complex is an important element to solidify the tax base, but it must COMPLEMENT AND NOT COMPETE with our downtown.  We must take a measured approach to development that won’t destroy the viability of our business community that meets the needs of ALL taxpayers and not just one.   Rezoning and development must provide living options that will allow our families to remain local.  That includes our aging parents and our college graduates who want to live independently but still be close.  We must ensure we are creating locations and destinations that bring our residents together and provide opportunities to help our community to grow into the future.