In a move to enforce an ordinance limiting large retail stores downtown, Jersey City is expected to deny the CVS drug store chain a certificate of occupancy for a proposed new location and to call it a win for smaller stores in the area. The new store would have been situated near the Morris Canal Redevelopment area where it would have had a huge impact on several mom and pop pharmacies.
“We believe that the business would be in violation of the ordinance,” said Jennifer Morrill
Last year, Jersey City set a limit to the number and size of chain retail establishments located in developments that receive a tax abatement from the city.
The restrictions only affect property within redevelopment areas or which get a tax abatement from the city. Since nearly all of the new development along the southern portion of downtown falls within these categories, landlords are bound by the restriction, and must lease to businesses that meet the city’s guidelines.
“Redevelopment plans give the development community extremely beneficial zoning and this is a part of the requirements they must fulfill as a result of that benefit,” said Councilwoman Candice Osborne. “Hopefully, this was an honest mistake, and I am sure they will find a great local business for that space.”
Small businesses were concerned
Although originally envisioned as a restriction that would maintain the delicate balance in the downtown section of the city, new development on formerly industrial sites near the Morris Canal have created spaces where larger chain stores might locate.
The city’s action came after several small business owners in the area complained about the large drug store chain’s plans to open a facility that would be larger than the city’s ordinance would allow.
Osborne, who helped craft the original ordinance along with Mayor Steven Fulop, apparently learned about the violation when contacted by the Hudson Reporter after the owner of two small pharmacies near the Hudson Bergen Light Rail stations at Essex Street and Marin Boulevard raised concerns about the impact the large chain pharmacy would have.
Protecting the delicate balance
Downtown is an area around the Grove Street PATH station, but also includes areas south of Grand Street where new development has mushroomed over the last three years.
The traditional downtown district has ground floor businesses operating along Grove Street, Newark Avenue, and number of other streets in the area. But the new development south of Grand Street involves significant large ground-floor commercial spaces.
Some of these house nursery schools and even a facility for the Hudson County Boys and Girls Club. Some of the newer buildings provide large commercial spaces which the ordinance prevents owners from leasing to stores that would pose unfair competition to mom and pop stores in the area.
Because of the wealth of the area, this part of the city has become attractive to larger chain businesses, and this puts pressure on local shops that may lack the resources to compete.
Fulop said part of the attraction of Downtown is its somewhat quaint feel. Many people have compared the Grove Street area to Greenwich Village. There are a number of art galleries, many restaurants, and other small boutiques.
The ordinance said only 30 percent of commercial space in the Downtown district can be rented to businesses that have 10 other outlets within 300 miles of Jersey City. The proposed store would have exceeded the 30 percent of commercial space limit.
Also, CVS has numerous outlets throughout Hudson County and so opening a facility downtown would be prohibited. The ordinance defines a chain store as one that has a number of locations with standardized features such a store décor, logos, menus, and such.
Mayor Fulop said the ordinance would be expanded to other parts of the city when these areas get saturated with chain stores – something that might be applicable to Jersey City Heights, which is seeing an influx of niche shops side by side with the traditional shopping district along Central Avenue.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.