SPARTA, NJ – The Garden Room at the Mohawk House was the place to be for Sparta business owners. The Sparta Township’s Economic Development Committee held their first business forum on Wednesday night.
The event drew 58 business owners to meet with the members of the EDC and township and have the opportunity to voice concerns and opinions about the business climate in Sparta.
The evening began with greeting from Sparta Township Manager Bill Close. He said they were seeking to “support and further business in the community.”
“Tonight is a building block for the future,” Close said.
Councilman and committee member Josh Hertzberg welcomed the gathering to the event “two years in the making.”
“I asked to be on the [Economic Development] committee,” Hertzberg said. “It is made up of business owners in the town who are trying to make things better for businesses in the town. We wanted to get you her in the room today to know who you are and hear what you have to day.”
Hertzberg introduced the other members of the committee;
- James Hammond – Co-Chair
- Michael Sylveester, EWMA
- Duffy Brennan, Weichert Realtors
- Cathy Dilger, C3 Workplace
- Joe Toscano, CP Professionals
- Steve Scro, Mohawk House
- Ann Sears, ANDesign
- Nancy Parker, Argosy Travel
- Richard Miner, Esq
- Nicole Francoeur, Rose City Framemakers
- Janice Stevens, Committee Secretary,
- Jerry Murphy, Councilman
- William Close, Township Manager
After talking about the mission of the EDC. He explained the Planning Board has been in the process of assessing the Master Plan, including the introduction of walking trails to connect businesses. Next Hertzberg opened the floor to get input.
“This is a safe place to voice your opinion,” Hertzberg said. “The way to attract more businesses is to have successful businesses [in Sparta].
The first person to speak asked to have “loosening of some regulations to make Main Street more attractive and easier on business.” There was a common theme of addressing the restrictions of the township’s sign ordinances.
Hertzberg said the sign ordinances were a work in progress. That they understood changes needed to be made but that it had to happen in “baby steps” because once the change is allowed you cannot go back.
“We don’t want blinking neon signs on Main Street,” Hertzberg said.
There was a call for a change to the make up of the Planning and Zoning boards citing the longevity of the current member’s terms and that “institutional memory isn’t always positive.”
There was also a call for the elimination of the prohibition on having real estate agents on the boards. “They have a lot to knowledge offer and it is done all over the country.” That drew a bit of contention.
Hertzberg said he did not know that that was the case. But Councilman Murphy was pointed out as having said real estate agents could not be considered for the boards in public statements.
Murphy defended his position. “There are times when there are conflicts of interest.”
Other suggestions were that the township should once again employ a full time planner, some of the ordinances could be consolidated into land use policies for an easier interface with the township, promoting a better relationship between the township’s boards and the Lake Mohawk Country Club; “There needs to be a better process for adjudicating differences.”
It was not all complaints. “I would like to compliment Maureen [Donnelly, Land Use Administrator]. She is fantastic as the town representative to businesses looking to start in Sparta.”
There were calls for further meetings to have an educational component explaining the Master Plan, ordinances and fees impacting businesses.
“This is the first time but not a one time,” Hertzberg said.
A light dinner was served on the patio providing additional time for the business owners to meet and talk with other businesses and township representatives.
The EDC meets every second Thursday of the month at 8:30 a.m. in the Police Department Conference Room. They can be contacted at EDC@spartanj.org.