FLEMINGTON, NJ – Efforts to change Hunterdon’s reputation for having “particularly onerous and extensive development processes for businesses” took another step forward at Tuesday’s Freeholder meeting.

Hunterdon County Economic Development Director Marc Saluk told the Freeholders at their meeting Tuesday that whether the reputation is deserved or not, the result of a county-led study could lead to an improved climate for development in Hunterdon.

Saluk said some developers who’ve worked here in the past have told him that they’d “never again do a project in Hunterdon,” and some others won’t even give Hunterdon a chance on a project “because they are fearful of what they will encounter if they try to develop a project within Hunterdon.”

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Freeholder Director Matt Holt called the study the “ultimate shared service,” because Hunterdon, Clinton and Clinton Township are each partners.

“Both towns entered into the partnership with the county with the goal of streamlining the processes for business development as best as possible,” Saluk said.

The county contracted with planners Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank for a review of “policies, procedures and ordinances” in Clinton and Clinton Township, Saluk said, “with the goal of better aligning those and crafting those” to support economic development. It is typically local municipal ordinances that developers find most difficult, according to Saluk.

The study, which began last year, is based in part on a conclusion drawn by the county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which revealed the “threat” of Hunterdon’s anit-development reputation.

“It was mentioned by developers and by a number of businesses in the community, over and over again ... that New Jersey is bad in general” but Hunterdon is especially difficult for developers, Saluk said, making it “really a detriment to maintaining an expansion of our ratable base in the long run.”

Consultants have now completed review of the ordinances and processes in both municipalities and met with officials in both towns, Saluk said, and businesses are scheduled to be interviewed over the next two weeks.

Most of those businesses have gone through development approval processes over the last few years, Saluk said, so they have “fresh intelligence” on it.

After collecting information from the businesses, the consultants will deliver a first-draft report of recommendations in late May early June, Saluk said.

Suggestions in the report may offer “immediate  potential for impact outside of these two towns,” he said. It will contain a summary of best practices and “a toolkit that summarizes and generalizes” some of those recommendations.

The report will be packaged “in a travel-friendly way we can bring to other communities, and have conversations there” about growth. Some other Hunterdon municipalities have expressed interest in the project, he said.

Saluk said the toolkit won’t require a municipality to “approve projects not appropriate for their communities,” he said, but at least a municipality won’t lose a chance to even consider a development project.

Saluk said the companies coming to him with issues are “not looking to build 200,000 square foot manufacturing facilities.”

Instead, the troublesome regulations “are causing store fronts on Main Street not to fill,” Saluk said. “They’re causing us to lose opportunity with businesses that are really consistent with what our economic base is,” such as wineries and filling existing office space.

The goal, Saluk said, is to “maximize what we have, in a very consistent way with the way Hunterdon has developed over time, not actually change the way we plan to grow the county.”