SOMERSET, NJ – With large office buildings becoming a thing of the past – and the COVID-19 pandemic adding pressure as companies adapt to more remote work – Franklin Township officials are moving to simplify the area’s commercial zoning by combining three separate commercial zones into a single, all-inclusive designation. 

The township council approved an ordinance on first reading that, if passed on Dec. 8, will merge the corporate business zone with both light manufacturing zones to create a new “business and industry” classification. 

Mayor Phillip Kramer said a drive down Davidson Avenue is evidence enough to support the change. 

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“Just drive down Davidson Avenue and you’ll see space available sign after space available sign … Those are very large buildings that have been assessed at a relatively high value,” he said. 

When occupied, the township’s commercial properties bring in tax revenue that helps keep property taxes down. But the longer they stay vacant the less each property is worth, which could lead to a higher tax bill for residents. 

“Those values are going down because they’ve been vacant for so long. This move really helps to fight taxes and create jobs in the area,” said Kramer. 

Officials said that economic development is the driving force behind the ordinance, hoping that the simplified zoning will help continue the area’s growth. 

Councilman Ted Chase said that with the township’s corporate business zone becoming less relevant, combining the three commercial zones is “recognizing the fact that the large office buildings … they’re not building any more of them and our corporate business zone is not likely to attract more of them.” 

The two light manufacturing zones – referred to by the township as M1 and M2 –  are already very similar except that M1 requires a minimum parcel size of five acres instead of the two acres required by M2. The proposed business and industry zone would bring lot size requirements down to two acres across the board.

“Those big office buildings are dinosaurs and I think COVID has put a nail in their coffin if they’re still breathing at all,” said Kramer. “Companies are now realizing they can work very efficiently and not have to pay for a big building. I think this is absolutely at the right time.” 

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