Business & Finance

Westfield Town Council Moves Forward with Downtown Task Force’s Recommendations

Mayor Andy Skibitsky, Town Administrator Jim Gildea, Town Attorney Russell Finestein and Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan at Tuesday's conference meeting. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Town Council took steps Tuesday night to turn more than a dozen of the near-term recommendations made by the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force into reality by approving on first reading two ordinances aimed at making it easier to do business downtown.

“The task force report came out in April and some of the recommendations are already being implemented,” Councilman Sam Della Fera, who chairs the code review and town property committee, told the council during Tuesday night’s conference meeting. For example, he noted, trees have been planted downtown, there has been budget approval for new parking meter heads and “parklets” (small, movable temporary structures that can offer shaded seating or even bandstands) are on their way.

Many of the changes in the two ordinances that the committee proposed are the result of conversations with merchants and property owners, he said.

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According to Della Fera, ordinance 2082 would:

  • Make it easier for a new business to get a parking variance without going before the planning board.
  • Remove parking requirements for a business with a short-term (two-month or less) lease.
  • Streamline the approval process for renovations so that business owners spend less time going before boards for approval.
  • Allow more types of businesses, such as arcades (which were banned during the 1970s) and paint-and-sips, to move in.
  • Remove the need to get a variance to use basement space for something other than storage, provided the space will be used for functions ancillary to a principal permitted use on the ground floor.
  • Allow for more than one tenant to share space.
  • Allow walk-up windows for businesses such as pizzerias or ice cream shops.
  • Exclude stair towers and elevator bulk heads from maximum building height requirements.
  • Exclude decorative architectural features from maximum building height requirements.
  • Allow ground-floor office use on North and South Avenues.

The code review and town property committee did not recommend allowing ground-floor office use on downtown streets other than North and South Avenues, Della Fera told the council.

“That is not something the committee is prepared to recommend because it may result in dead zones,” Della Fera said, “where you have law firms or accounting firms or other professional uses on the first floor — all of which, by the way are presently allowed on the second floor or above. But a healthy downtown requires foot traffic and window shopping.”

Ordinance 2081 would ease restrictions on signage. The ordinance would legalize A-frame/sandwich board sidewalk signs, which are currently not allowed downtown, though are nevertheless in wide use.

“Clearly there’s a desire by our business owners to have sidewalk signage,” Della Fera said. “And so, rather than fight it or not enforce it, we’re going to allow it, but with restrictions. It requires a permit, it requires adequate insurance coverage.”

Right now there’s no limitation on the size or quality of the A-fram signs, he noted.

“This ordinance, if passed, would set standards for the signs themselves — size, location and permitting, so we kind of bring a little order to what presently exists,” he said.

The ordinance would also allow for window signage (also already in wide use) for a certain percentage of the window area and awning signage.

Later that evening at their regular meeting, the town council voted unanimously on first reading to approve the ordinances. Both would have to pass a second vote before they can go into effect.

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