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 Democratic Township Council Candidate Susan Poage for Week 3.

Week 3 Question:

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  • 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?

Bret Sayre and I have been working as a team since January to develop and publicize our platform. A major part of the platform is economic redevelopment, the focus of this week’s questions. As we developed our ideas together, we have decided this week to introduce you to this part of our platform by dividing our areas of focus. Please be sure to read both our statements to get a full and robust response. You can view our full platform at https://poageandsayreforbh.com/the-issues/

The three questions this week have a common thread. What’s good for Berkeley Heights Business is good for Berkeley Heights Residents.

As the daughter of a family business owner, I have always chosen to spend my money locally. As your Councilwoman, I was part of the team that made sure to quickly amend ordinances for outside dining for our restaurants. As we head into an uncertain future of a potential second wave, we know Covid is not going away soon and we have to learn to work, play, and shop within the parameters of a pandemic. This is not easy and our businesses need us. We must continue to support the Shop Local initiative started during the early days of Covid. Businesses were very creative in redefining themselves and it is crucial to show our support.

Our small businesses need support from the community to thrive. When our businesses succeed, Berkeley Heights succeeds. Offering tax incentives and providing new business owners with a mentor who understands our climate and culture can be a powerful step. We also need to review the roadblocks that some of the outdated zoning ordinances present. It is also important to make it a more streamlined process for businesses to come before the planning board and zoning boards. Time is money for a new business. We want businesses to not just survive, but to thrive. Bret will fully discuss our THRIVE program in his statement. 

With regard to large businesses, the Connell rezoning project would provide Berkeley Heights with opportunities for new, large businesses such as a gourmet grocer as well as a dog park and new recreational spaces.

I have been a supporter of the Connell rezoning since it was first presented. I look at this as an opportunity for our community to gain amenities that will enhance livability here in Berkeley Heights. What some people don’t know is that Connell was already approved for development in 2017; without the rezoning approval, they can still develop, but the residents of the rest of Berkeley Heights will not gain access to amenities like the dog park, small practice field, and restaurants that can put Berkeley Heights on the map as a destination town.

The Connell mixed use project will benefit our existing businesses in our downtown, too. We are never going to look like Westfield or Summit. We are not laid out like that. And that is OK. I view our town as having economic Hubs -different areas within our town. We can have the Springfield Ave west Hub, the Springfield Ave east Hub, and the Connell Hub. The Hubs can interact with each other. The concierge app that Connell will be developing can also help businesses in other Hubs. In the future, I visualize a trolley similar to the one used in Winter Walk as a way to move people from Hub to Hub. 

Simply put, without the rezoning there will be more density and no accessibility. With the rezoning we have the opportunity for a self-financed project to move quickly to help us come back from the devastation of the pandemic, generate the tax revenue, compliment the businesses in town, and enhance the lives of residents with open spaces and entertainment venues. Rarely is a town given an opportunity to greatly improve upon a redevelopment project by getting more for our community - and being able to push for a smarter and financially stable long-term revenue stream to help with our property taxes.  Connell’s proposed rezoning can do just that. In order for Berkeley Heights to emerge from this global pandemic poised for a strong economic recovery, we need to be creative and on the leading edge of the future marketplace. 

The right priorities for Berkeley Heights mean moving our town forward.